Spoilers for Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero by E. Lockhart, Manuel Preitano, Gabby Metzler, and Troy Peteri
I loved Whistle. Both the book and the hero: she’s Jewish, she’s in Gotham, she talks to dogs. What’s not to love? Well, the end. It was too abrupt when I first finished the book, felt almost like a copout instead of the fights I just knew the story was leading up to. Where was Killer Croc? That wasn’t the end of the battle with Riddler, right? I had to sit with it for a bit, think that ending over. And now, I think the book works better like this. It’s a story about being a teenager, about growing into your beliefs, standing for and with your community. About doing small mitzvahs – good deeds -, even when the police say it’s too big for you.
There’s this expectation in my head nowadays – as a comic reader, as a consumer of all kinds of media produced today, that everything gets wrapped up, makes sense, and be resolved at the end. It’s encouraged by all the “ending explained” articles that pop up in droves after a movie comes out or every week when a TV show’s episode ends. Even media that needs some digging, packed full of symbolism and messages and whatever else, it still ends where I think it should. But why should it? Whistle helped me come to terms with that, that we’re just seeing one piece of a person’s life. Maybe Naomi and E. will reconcile, maybe Pammie will get her red hair, maybe they won’t stop Riddler, maybe Willow will lose herself again. I don’t know! We don’t know.
In the meantime, I get to love the book the same way Willow loves her community and her neighborhood, how it links back to her Jewishness and her mother’s Jewishness. Lockhart says in interviews that she hopes young Jewish girls see themselves in Willow, and I’m not a girl – nor am I 16 anymore, but I do see myself, refracted through the glass. She reminds me of my very first protest, also in high school, when the head of the Special Education department I was in wouldn’t let me switch out of a class where the teacher constantly second guessed my use of accommodations. So I sat outside the department head’s office instead of going to class, for a week. After that week, they switched me out of the class. There are a hundred years of continuum connecting Judaism and social activism that many people, Jewish or not, don’t get to learn about in school. I always have a sense of pride in that history, especially this year when Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah sit right next to each other.
This book came out on Rosh Hashanah! It’s a New Year’s baby, right at the beginning of 5782. I can only hope Willow knows about this history because her mother told her about it – along with all the other fun facts she can spout about the Jewish history of Down River. I hope she understands that she’s a part of that history, too. That even when she’s standing alone, demanding more funding for her school, for her community, she’s never alone, not really.