Second Helpings of Second Chances: A Review of Brian Lee O’Malley’s Graphic Novel Seconds

  • Write your mistake
  • Ingest one mushroom
  • Go to sleep
  • Wake anew

This is the note that twenty-nine-year-old chef Katie Clay finds in the old chest of drawers that sits in her little apartment above her restaurant. The accompanying mushroom, which adorably resembles those found in Super Mario games, has the power to turn back time. This comes in handy when Hazel, a shy server, is horribly injured due to her negligence in the kitchen. (Hot oil burns you terribly—castle-defenders used to pour it over their enemies!)

This one changeover is a gateway drug. After all, if she can change one event, why not others? Unfortunately for Katie, however, Lis, the house spirit that inhabits the aged building that has been turned into Seconds, her restaurant, has very different ideas.

“There are rules,” Lis stubbornly repeats like a badly dressed, curmudgeonly broken record. There is power in the mushrooms because they grow under Seconds, which is “very old,” as Lis frequently reminds us. As is so often the case with stories about old magical places, the magic is part of the place itself. Only things that have happened inside the restaurant can be changed— and most of Katie’s life has happened inside Seconds. Her accidents, career choices, restaurant ambitions, and past relationship are all fair game to mushroom away. Or so she thinks.

The story is told through an often-sassy narrator, whom Katie argues with on a regular basis. The result is funny and familiar—who doesn’t argue with themselves inside their heads? Katie’s do-overs are numbered to help readers keep track of the events she’s altered. It also drives home just how flippantly she uses the mushrooms and how brittle the branches of her various timelines get.

The graphic novel is a feast for the eyes, as expected from Brian Lee O’Malley. The characters are adorable, and the food art is gorgeous—make-you-hungry, why-isn’t-it-real gorgeous. Even the colouring of the novel is delicious. Those of you who are familiar with Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series will enjoy seeing two characters from the series eating dinner at Seconds restaurant and the running bread joke. That joke never gets stale.

The one weakness in the story is Max, Katie’s (not evil) ex-boyfriend. Their relationship is over when the novel begins, but we are shown their romantic history in a brief set of montage panels. A montage can convey a romantic relationship fairly well—consider how teary-eyed everyone gets while watching the first few minutes of Up. But a montage that glosses over important material weakens readers’ understanding of the characters in the piece. I found that if I looked too closely at the parts of Seconds that explore Max and Katie’s relationship, I started wondering why she’d want him back. He refers to himself as a “fake,” ends up in the restaurant business as a fluke, and is clearly not nearly as driven as Katie is when it comes to cooking and serving people. In one timeline he joins Katie in creating a new restaurant, but by letting Max into her plans, Katie ends up compromising on her dream to the point where it is unrecognizable.

That’s the message of Seconds in a nutshell: sometimes you compromise and sometimes you don’t. Would that we all had magical mushrooms to help us figure this all out.

Seconds captures all the chagrin and angst that accompanies hard life decisions and big changes. Those of you staring down the barrel of graduation or starting on new paths will enjoy reading Katie’s story. In fact, you’ll devour it.

-Contributed by Miranda Whittaker

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