Book Review

The Golden Hour by Niki Smith

The Golden Hour Niki Smith

Genre | Middle grade graphic novel
Page #s | 256
Publishing Date | November 2021

From the author of The Deep & Dark Blue comes a tender graphic novel, perfect for our time, that gently explores themes of self-discovery, friendship, healing from tragedy, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Struggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.


The Golden Hour is a gorgeously drawn graphic novel that visually captures the feeling of PTSD and anxiety perfectly. Manuel is a sweet boy who is struggling to readjust after witnessing a school shooting and the injury of his art teacher. The violence is implied and occasionally depicted in a roundabout way, but the instance itself is not this book’s focus; Manuel’s healing process is.

Central to this healing process are his two friends. They are endlessly supportive, understanding, and simply the best. They draw Manuel into their world of farming and the Ag-Club. Their companionship combined with peaceful country living provides him with a safe space to re-enter the world. Additionally, his therapist suggests he use photography as a coping strategy. It is a way for him to see the world one step removed, which feels safer. It’s also a way for him to focus on one small thing (his screen) when his anxiety starts to take over. All of this is drawn effortlessly; it’s truly impressive how Smith manages to convey psychological and emotional experiences artistically.

There is no explicit queer representation, unlike Smith’s earlier middle grade graphic novel The Deep & Dark Blue. However, there are soft boys exploring friendship with meaningful looks between them; they’re totally going to date.

Who Do I Recommend This Book To?

The Golden Hour has broad appeal; if you’re into sweet stories about young people growing up after tragedy with the help of nice people, you will enjoy this graphic novel!

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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