Book Review: Blankets by Craig Thompson (2003)

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Review #81

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.

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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

You can find Blankets here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (1990)

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Review #23

 

A man known only as “V” begins a plan to bring chaos and anarchy to a Britain which has been taken over by an oppressive fascist regime. Sixteen year old Evey Hammond finds herself wrapped up in V’s plot and must decide where her loyalties lie. Meanwhile, the police detectives are trying to hunt down the terrorist before he can complete his goal of overthrowing the government.

Sometimes it’s really important whether or not you see the film or read the novel first. I saw the Wachowski sisters’ interpretation of V for Vendetta when it debuted in theaters in 2005, and it remains one of my favorite graphic-novel style movies. It sparked a fierce debate in my family about the definition of a terrorist versus a freedom fighter. It also gave us the memorable quote that “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people”. For a seventeen year old girl whose government had just invaded Iraq under false pretenses and was busy wiretapping everything in sight, this movie felt important. I went in knowing that the plot for the source material, Alan Moore’s hugely popular graphic novel, was very different. Maybe I just wasn’t prepared for how different it was.

The titular character in Moore’s novel is not a hero, nor is he fighting for a noble cause. At best he is an anarchist, who doesn’t seem to mind if innocent people get slaughtered next to the ones he has deemed guilty. He is manipulative and abusive towards Evey, who in the novel is an illiterate sixteen-year old who opens the novel by soliciting a man for sex. The Supreme Chancellor Adam Susan (Suttler in the film) is portrayed here as a mentally confused, weak minded man who relies solely on a highly advanced computer program to run the government. I much preferred the film’s interpretation of Suttler as a fanatically religious dictator.

I can admire the graphic novel for trying to highlight moral ambiguity and the prisons that people make for themselves. I’ve read a few of Moore’s novels, and his characters aren’t meant to be heroes. They’re meant to be fucked up individuals who are ultimately going to choose to further themselves over some noble idea of humanity. This is honestly a closer mirror to modern society, and Moore doesn’t shrink away from it. Taken on its own, away from the film adaptation, this is an amazing book.

I guess that I just felt deflated while reading it. Sometimes it’s nice to have heroes that are fighting for liberty and freedom as well as for revenge. It’s comforting to have a clear-cut idea of who the goodies and the baddies are. In 2018 as the world seem to be edging closer and closer to the abyss, I wanted the graphic novel to be a closer match to the film. The fact that it wasn’t is more a reflection on my current state of mind than a criticism of the novel itself.

My rating: 3/5

Note: It helps when reading this novel to have a basic understanding of British slang. Much like Mark Twain, Alan Moore writes the English language as it is actually spoken in that part of the world. One character has a thick Scottish brogue, and I actually had to read his dialogue aloud in order to figure out what he was saying.

You can find V for Vendetta here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: Everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too by Jomny Sun (2017)

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Review #12

 

Jomny is a aliebn who’s a little weird. None of his fellow aliebns seem to think or act like him. He is left alone on Earth in order to research the strange creatures known as humabns. While on Earth, Jomny meets many new friends, and learns a few important lessons about life, loneliness, and nothing at all.

Due to the deliberately bad spelling and grammar, my inner English teacher was in a mild state of apoplexy when I  began this book. I need not have worried. Within ten pages I was absolutely enthralled with this tale of a lonely alien who is trying to learn his place among things. This is a “novel” in the loosest sense of the word. One, it is a graphic novel which gives author Jomny Sun nearly unlimited freedom. Some pages have only one or two words on them. Others don’t have any words at all. The illustrations are simple to the point of being childlike, which makes them somehow more impressive at second glance. It takes talent and a degree of restraint that few artists have to express so much through such spare drawings.

The most important idea presented in Everyone’s a aliebn is that all the people we meet are fighting a harder battle. This is not a new idea in any sense, but it’s conveyed here without the heavy handedness that often comes with that territory. Jomny the alien encounters a variety of characters throughout the book, each one dealing with their own problems. Most notable are an insecure hedgehog who dreams of creating art but anticipates rejection, a bear who is feared by all but just wants to make friends, an egg who is anxious because he doesn’t know what he’ll be when he hatches, and a tree who is lonely because every autumn all his fruit and leaves abandon him and to fall to the ground. None of these characters are defined by their fears, and instead are just trying to work through them. Not everything is sadness and not everything is joy, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes the right book just finds you at the time right. I’ve been struggling for the past few months with pretty crushing loneliness. It’s manageable on a day-to-day basis but then I read a book like this one and come across this:

“u may be sad because u feel alone. the comforting thing abot feeling lonely is that every thing that has ever existed also knows what loneliness feels like too.”

Simple thoughts, told in the simplest words, can have the power of a thousand pithy self-help books. I didn’t even know how badly I needed this book until I was halfway through it. And what’s great is that this isn’t a “self-help” book. It didn’t offer platitudes and self-esteem boosters. It is just a series of observations of the highs and lows that accompany the human condition.

Everyone’s a aliebn deals with questions of life and death, friendship, and creation. It would be a great book for a child to read once they begin asking the important questions in life. It would be a great book for a person who is struggling through hard times. It would be a great book for a person on the precipice of change. Basically, it would be a great book for just about anyone.

Bonus: it’s also an incredibly quick read. I sat down one afternoon and read the book cover-to-cover in thirty minutes. I got up to do some other things around the house but couldn’t shake Everyone’s a aliebn. So I sat back down and read it again.

My rating: 5/5

You can find this book here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!