Craig Thompson lives a lonely life in rural Wisconsin. The son of incredibly devout Christians, his early life is defined by love for God combined with the sense of shame that he will never be pure enough to earn God’s love in return. He has an ongoing sibling rivalry with his younger brother Phil and constantly feels both protective and smothered by their relationship. When Craig is in high school he attends a Christian Bible Camp. There he meets Raina, and a budding romance springs up between them which causes Craig to begin questioning his faith.
The early parts of Thompson’s novel deal mostly with his relationship with his little brother. Since Craig is constantly bullied at school because his family is poor and highly religious, he is incredibly lonely. But instead of turning to his brother for friendship, he belittles Phil and tries to make himself seem smarter and more powerful than his sibling. At the same time, Blankets is interspersed with memories of he and his brother as they play together, draw together, and bicker with one another. Sibling relationships are always a strange mixture of love and irritation, and Thompson depicts that dichotomy with humor and humility.
The bulk of Blankets is dedicated to Craig’s relationship with Raina, and the emotional highs and lows that accompany a first love. Thompson portrays their budding romance as a whirlwind of new experiences, new hormones, and new revelations that will test their tenuous bonds. We as readers know how incredibly rare it is for people to end up with their first loves, and yet I found myself hoping against hope that things would somehow work out for the two of them. Thompson shows that he has a poetic soul in these sections, and the way that Craig sets Raina on a a pedestal of perfection is beautifully written. She is highly idealized, and often represented as a goddess or an angel with a halo upon her head. There is also a running undercurrent of fear since Craig does not believe himself to be worthy of anyone’s love, and he lives in a state of anxiety that Raina will one day realize how deficient he is.
The writing in this novel was poignant and powerfully honest. One of the reasons that memoirs can leave such an indelible impression is that they require the author to bare their soul entirely. Thompson draws upon that extreme confusion that all teenagers feel at some point. A crisis of faith, a feeling of shame for his own desires, a realization that a love for God does not always have to mean an attachment to organized religion are the cornerstones of Blankets.
The illustrations in this book are wonderfully expressive, and I was continually impressed by the amount of detail that Thompson was able to cram into the small panels of this novel. He draws the harsh winters of Wisconsin with a deft and loving hand that make me eager for the first snowfall of the season.
If I had to make a criticism of Blankets, it would be that there were certain aspects that Thompson left too vague. At one point he suggests that he and his brother were molested by a babysitter. This is given about two pages early in the novel, and revisited with two pages towards the middle. I kept waiting for the author to explain more about what happened with the brothers and the babysitter, but he never touches on it again. This is one example of a plot line that is never followed, and I was frustrated by the fact that Thompson would drop such a bombshell on his readers but never lead it to any conclusion.
This is the second graphic memoir that I’ve read this month, the other being Persepolis. I find myself increasingly drawn to this niche genre because of its stark and beautiful honesty, and the talent by the author to expose their innermost pain and joy to strangers. Reading Blankets was looking straight into the soul of a fellow human, and seeing myself reflected back.
My rating: 4.5/5
Happy reading everyone!