I know that lots of folks question the wisdom in reviewing something based on how you would expect its intended audience to receive it. The dangers to this approach are clear: by taking it, one runs the risk of ignoring one's own responses, concentrating on the more dubious proposition of trying to guess how someone other than yourself would react to a book. It's not really a problem, of course, if the reviewer is part of the target audience, or if it's the kind of thing where marketing concepts like "target audience" are of reduced importance. I don't generally have to worry about this sort of thing for most of the comics I read, since I either belong to the target audience (eg, dudes who know who the Terrible Turpin is), or the author isn't really concerned with narrowcasting or the like (an approach I would associate with most of the stuff on this list).
It is something I have to think about when considering Chiggers, however. This is clearly a young adult title, presumably intended for an audience of teenage or preteen girls. That's obviously not me. Furthermore, I don't have any great expertise as to what kinds of comics someone in this target audience would respond to. I could take the approach I've seen in most reviews of DC's Minx line or various shojo titles--just give my reaction to it, ignoring any consideration of who it's intended for. I'd do that if I could, but I'm not sure that my brain works that way. From the moment I picked up Chiggers all the way through the end, I couldn't help but think about how my understanding of the book would necessarily differ from that of the folks who will (hopefully) be buying it or checking it out from libraries.
Complicating all this were my high expectations for the book, given Hope Larson's reputation. If I had read any of her earlier work I probably would have approached Chiggers differently. In fact, I wish I had read some of her earlier work, since I found Larson to be a very talented cartoonist. I especially appreciated the ongoing symbolic content to the work, sort of like a low-key David B. Which is good, since a YA title probably doesn't need a full-force David B. type of approach. See, I'm still thinking about this in terms of target audience.
Despite this reviewer's cognitive shortcomings, I still found Chiggers to be quite enjoyable. Besides the aforementioned symbolic content, I also found Larson's linework and storytelling to be quite charming. The real strength, however, is in the character work. The various denizens of Larson's summer camp are all strongly-defined in every possible way--design, body language, dialogue, and motivation. It's strong enough work to warrant a comparison to Jaime Hernandez, which is about the highest compliment I can imagine for this sort of thing.
Of course, this being a YA title, the stakes all seem a bit mild to my jaundiced, adult eye. I'm not so old that I can't recall a time when the events at summer camp (or, in my case, the summer program for the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts) seemed like life-and-death propositions. But that was a long time ago. Larson's incredible execution overshadows this, however. And besides, I'm not the target audience, right? None of this seemed inappropriate or corny, and I'd imagine it's tougher than you'd think to navigate a path avoiding those pitfalls.
I certainly hope Chiggers does well, because it's kind of the ideal entry-level comic. One could envision a generation of young comics readers with incredibly high standards based on their experiences reading Chiggers. Then again, they might be disheartened to find that other YA offerings aren't nearly as strong. What's really important, however, is that Hope Larson has produced a book which one can enthusiastically recommend to young female readers to for years to come. It's a shame that there's nobody in my family in the correct age group for this book, because I'd love to give a copy as a gift. As for myself, I really need to read Larson's other books.
EDIT: Please note the comment from my brother, who actually does have a background on how young girls process visual culture. It's good to think about these things in a more academically rigorous way.
(Review based on an advance copy.)