Can you feel it? There’s a crispness in the air, beckoning you to curl up on the couch with a mug of hot apple cider, or maybe a PSL. Hot Girl Summer is officially behind us, and now it’s time for Cozy Girl (or Boy, or Person) Autumn. Hygge nights, the sweet scent of rotting leaves, Halloween candy at every turn…..if anyone tries to tell you fall isn’t the best season, they’re lying. In between reading spooky stories, planning my Halloween costume, and buying far too many decorative gourds, I picked up a copy of Pumpkinheads by the prolific Rainbow Rowell (her latest book, Wayward Son, came out just few weeks ago), and if you for some reason still need some autumn inspo to really get into the season, this young adult graphic novel should hit the spot.
Set in the span of a single night, Pumpkinheads is a short and sweet story about two high school seniors Deja and Josiah, who reunite every fall at the local pumpkin patch where they’ve worked for the past four years. This pumpkin patch, enthusiastically named DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch and Autumn Jamboree, claims to be “the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world”—a bold claim and, if the artwork is anything to judge by, an accurate one. This night (Halloween) is Deja and Josiah’s last night at the pumpkin patch ever; they’ll be off to college next year. So, determined to live their final day to the fullest, Deja decides it’s time for Josiah to do what he’s been putting off for four years: confess his massive crush to the mysterious “Fudge Girl” girl who works at the Fudge Shoppe across the way. This sudden urge sparks a series of misadventures as, unable to find Fudge Girl, Deja drags the shy Josiah all through the pumpkin patch, past the smores pit and candy apple stand, through the corn maze and the hay ride.
There’s a real sort of fall magic to this book, and the choice to tell this story in graphic novel format was the right one. I’ve read plenty of Rowell’s stuff before now, and never really connected with it, for whatever reason. This story is by no means a departure for her (once again focusing on teens from Nebraska), but her prose harmonizes nicely with Faith Erin Hicks’ artwork to elevate this rather simple story (Hicks is known for her own graphic novels, The Nameless City series and her latest, a continuation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series). But the contributor I really want to highlight is Sarah Stern, whose colouring is responsible for the oh-so-autumnal palette of oranges, blue, and purples. What begins in more washed-out hues starts to deepen gradually throughout the book, as the sun sets and night creeps in. The blues become navy, the purples become violet and maroon, the oranges take on a more burnt quality, like the campfire at the smores pit. It’s this careful detail that really completes the autumn aesthetic and captures that particular feeling of a fall night pre-Halloween. The illustrations, complementing the frenetic pace of the story, capture the electric energy of a pumpkin patch at nighttime, when visitors brave the evening chill for some seasonal snacks, outdoor fun, and the chance to get a little spooked. Honestly, if I could live in this pumpkin patch, I would.
But fall is more than just the prettiest and coziest season; it’s also the season of death, both literally and symbolically. Literally, of course, the trees start their winter preparations and harvesters try to beat the imminent frost. Symbolically, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and All Soul’s Day are celebrations and commemorations of the dead. It’s believed by some cultures that the veil between the living and dead worlds is thinnest in late October. There’s a heaviness to the “spooky season” beneath the levity. So it’s appropriate that Rowell incorporates this sense of finality into her work, her characters’ lives speeding towards an ending of sorts. Josiah and Deja have reached their last year of high school, and this Halloween marks the end of their favourite yearly tradition. But there is also the tentative promise of something starting. They’re balanced on the edge of their old lives and new, so there’s a potent mix of excitement and mourning on this last day. I find that all the best YA or teen-oriented media balances this sense of a hopeful future with a nostalgizing of the present, which is soon to be the past. Think The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Dead Poets Society (both of which embody major fall vibes, themselves). Rowell has a sensibility for the nostalgia inherent in this time of year, and at this time of life, and she uses it effectively to fuel a sense of urgency in the friends, both in finding Fudge Girl and for confronting truths about themselves. As the New York Times puts it, Pumpkinheads is about more than just a pumpkin patch, “it is about being confident enough in a friendship to speak both challenge and truth — even the truth that makes you feel vulnerable, but could set you on a new, rewarding path.”
You can pick up a copy of Pumpkinheads at your local library branch, where you can also check out many other books by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks! If you’re looking for some fall friendly programming, you might want to check out our Halloween Laboratory, Halloween Spooktactular, and Family Movie Double Feature (Spooky Edition)!