This earnest, promising debut effort from indie cartoonist Breena Wiederhoeft follows a dissatisfied young Midwestern woman named Beatrice, who does what so many dissatisfied Midwesterners have done before her: She heads west. After landing in Northern California, she's jobless and aimless until a chance encounter at a gas station—with a man whose unusually short arms earn him the nickname "Rex"—leads to a job at a landscaping firm.
Beatrice quickly feels at home with Rex and his tight-knit crew, but when the firm takes a contract working for a locally reviled developer—in a contested redwood area, no less—ostensibly so that Rex can influence the developer's policies from the inside, Beatrice finds herself crossing an environmentalists' picket line every day on her way to work, as she waits for Rex to keep the promises he's made.
Eventually, her faith in Rex begins to wane, and she's forced to question whether it's idealism or self-interest that ultimately motivates him—or whether his good intentions are making him a pawn of a developer bent on cutting down the redwoods.
Most of Picket Line is admirable in its emotional complexity—more so because Wiederhoeft's characters are drawn simply, big headed and dot eyed. Rex, whom Wiederhoeft occasionally represent as a friendly, sharp-toothed Tyrannosaurus, is so sweet and eager to please that the reader can empathize with Beatrice's agonizing over whether or not he's doing the right thing. But after defining such complicated emotional stakes, Wiederhoeft resolves them too neatly: the pat ending feels like a betrayal of the sophisticated, complex characterizations that precede it.