Pet Project

Written by Megan Wagner Lloyd
Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter

Maggie is feeling lonely. Her parents are preoccupied with the imminent arrival of a new baby, and her younger twin brothers have each other. She yearns for a puppy. While she’s finally allowed to choose one on her 10th birthday, her dream is shattered when she breaks out in hives and learns she has severe allergies.

One of the things I love about this graphic novel is the way it tackles an emotion we all experience: disappointment. Maggie is utterly devastated when she realizes her allergies have ruined her chances of ever owning anything with fur or feathers, but she keeps positive and tries to come up with another kind of pet. How about a fish? (She gets one and it dies within days.) A lizard? (Her brothers bond with it first.)

She does some research. Snake? Likes to eat mice. Frog? No touching or handling. Turtle? Hibernates for several months a year. Tortoise? Lives “for decades”! Her parents “can’t commit.” Hermit crab: The name says it all. Hedgehog: Illegal. Tarantula? OK, never mind.

Then Maggie’s next-door neighbor and best friend, Claire, gets a puppy. Cue raging jealousy.

My 10-year-old self can completely relate. When I was 10 I, too, lived next door to my best friend, and we were both crazy about horses. I’m not really sure why. I had never been near a horse and they slightly terrified me. We both begged our parents for riding lessons. Her parents said yes and mine said no. (My mum and dad correctly suspected that my sudden interest in all things equine was a passing fancy.) The jealousy I felt when I saw my friend head off to the stables was agonizing.

In “Allergic,” the illustrator Michelle Mee Nutter brilliantly captures Maggie’s tortured emotions as she watches Claire interact with the one thing she herself really wants.

These feelings are painful.

Another wonderful thing about this novel is that it shows how an allergy is diagnosed and treated. Megan Wagner Lloyd’s own experiences with allergies inspired her to write the book, and I can see it being a huge help for young readers who, like Maggie, are going through skin-prick tests and allergy shots.

A character I particularly like is Sebastian, a boy at school who becomes Maggie’s confidant when he reveals his allergy to eggs. He has had some scary allergic reactions and provides insight into how it feels to carry an EpiPen around all the time.

Sebastian is wise beyond his years. He has learned to accept that there are just some things he cannot do — unlike Maggie, who has smuggled a pet mouse into her bedroom.

This is her final attempt at owning a furry friend. The plan backfires when she tries to hide the fact that she’s having an allergic reaction, and the mouse — yes, it’s true — unexpectedly multiplies. Maggie’s secret is eventually exposed by her “traitor” younger brothers, who she discovers, in a touching scene, love her more than she has realized.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel beyond the allergy story line: how family dynamics change with a new baby’s arrival, how kids struggle to fit in and find friends. But while it addresses serious issues and emotions, “Allergic,” unlike hives and sneezing, is mostly madcap fun.

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