by Craig Thompson
This brick of a graphic novel explores first love, the changing dynamics of sibling relationships, religion, and more with startling honesty. The writing and illustrations made me feel like I knew the author and could easily relate to his Midwestern upbringing. He is open about what he believes, what he struggles with and what he’s going through. Thompson’s art is gorgeous and captures the angst and insecurity of teenage years with a quiet simplicity. Even the most heartbreaking moments of his childhood are not shouted from the rooftops, but instead they are mentioned as a part of life, but not the only part that defines him.
The tender way he describes falling in love for the first time immediately made me remember those first relationships in my own life. The blind devotion we show our early paramours is so relatable. The innocence and earnestness that pair so perfectly in our hearts when we fall for someone is at times hard to look away from, but beautiful to see.
As someone who also grew up in a Christian household and attended Christian camps, I could identify with some of the religious questions he brings up. For me, my faith boils down to believing in God vs. believing in religion. Man screws up. Man is selfish and petty and hypocritical. If you base your faith on the actions of the people around you, whether it’s your own family or the pastor of your church, you will inevitably be disappointed. Thompson comes to a different conclusion, but it's his journey along the path and his sincerity in searching that makes the book so enjoyable.
The way that Thompson writes the story allows him to float through his memories. He tells us about his first moments of infatuation, and then he takes us back to childhood memories of school bullies, and forward again to his observations of a man who is watching his family slip through his fingertips. He's at once observant and mature and touchingly naive. He talks about his vulnerability and the things he regrets with no hesitation. Though I'm sure parts of the book were painful to write, he never lets the reader feel as though they are intruding in his life.
BOTTOM LINE: Just a wonderful graphic novel, one of my favorites I’ve ever read. I wish the author had delved a bit more into his relationship with his brother, but I also understand that between siblings, sometimes the most important things are never said. If you’re a fan of coming-of-age stories and don’t mind a bit of teenage angst, definitely give this one a shot.