Blankets by Craig Thompson

“We experience a discomfort that may be foreign to others, but that pain opens up a world of beauty. Wouldn’t you think?”

5/5 stars.
Paperback, 592 pages.
Read from June 21, 2021 to June 22, 2021.

Childhood and youth are often reflected on with nostalgia as we age, even for those who have had difficult upbringings. Craig Thompson’s Blankets is a coming of age story in which he reflects on his youth with reverence, sadness, longing, and regret.

Craig grew up in Wisconsin in a strict Christian household with his parents and younger brother. Craig and his brother grew up like a lot of brothers do, a mix of roughhousing, shenanigans, and rivalry but as Craig gets older he comes to some harsh realisations about the abuse that occurred in within family, a weight that he still carries. As Craig enters his teenage years he is an awkward youth who has yet to find his place among his peers. During a stint at a Christian camp for teens, he meets a curious and intriguing young woman named Raina. As Craig and Raina get to know each other, their blossoming love is beautifully described with all the familiar intensity of a teen relationship, both sexually and emotionally. However, Raina comes from her own troubled home and while the two of them maintain a long-distance relationship, their home and family lives make it difficult to maintain. Craig’s relationship with also God begins to change, as he questions and grapples with the experiences and discussions he has with Raina.

The artwork colour scheme used by the author creates a perfect dream-like tone and mimics the blustery winter weather of Wisconsin as well as the fondness and frustration of being a teenager. Craig’s work is insightful, poetic, honest, and highly relatable. The story itself doesn’t feel tragic, though it has elements of tragedy, instead, it’s Craig’s matter-of-fact recollection of times gone and of moments of love, growth, and regret that he still holds close to his heart.

At first glance, this novel may look intimidatingly large but its content and beautiful imagery is devour-worthy and makes for a quick and pleasurable read. A highly recommended read to graphic novel lovers or for those looking to enter the genre.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“Nothing’s worse than saying goodbye. It’s a little like dying.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 341 pages.
Read from March 7, 2021 to March 8, 2021.

I can’t think of a more relevant book to read right now with the current news going on in the middle east…

Persepolis is separated into two parts, one covering the author’s childhood in Tehran and the second, covering her teen and young adult life in Vienna. Both stories are, at their root, a coming of age story and memoir amidst the turmoils of revolution and war. In the first part of the story, Marjane details her life from the ages of six to fourteen during the midst of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Like the black and white images, the story details a stark contrast between Marjane’s private life and the life she must lead in public while also offering a child’s perspective to the serious changes affecting the entire country. Revolution, murder, and war was the setting that marked Marjane’s childhood and while Marjane’s parents always encouraged her outspokenness and independence it came at a cost. The first part of the book concludes with the major decision to move Marjane to Vienna to live with an extended family member. 

Within the second book, Marjane adds the retrospect of her parent’s perspectives and their decision to send her away to Vienna as they feared for her safety if she stayed in Iran. This is where Marjane begins to come into her own as she tries desperately to fit into this new culture while recognising how different her upbringing and perspectives are to her new peers. She also has to learn to be abruptly independent as the family member she was placed to live with soon falls through. Marjane’s story details the awkwardness of growing up with both humour and, at times, surrealness as Marjane faces difficulties of which her peers have not. Persepolis is relatable yet at times an alien and horrifying story of youth, family, independence and connection. 

Marjane’s artwork and style perfectly capture the humour, isolation, longing, horror, and frustration of the experiences she and her family experienced, making for a powerful and visceral read. It’s more important than ever to read books like Marjane’s as the turmoil she and her family experienced is still far from over for many families and women currently living in Afghanistan and other countries living with religious extremism and war.

Persepolis is easily one of the best graphic novels I’ve read. I would strongly recommend adding this book to your repertoire if you haven’t already. Whether you love or hate graphic novels or memoirs, I guarantee that this book will speak to you in one form or another. 

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Growing up in the 90s was hard enough but imagine coming of age in a new country that you didn’t want to move to in the first place, with a language you don’t understand…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 228 pages.
Read on January 21, 2021.

Recommended by a friend, this was a comforting read to have amidst another wave of COVID.

Robin Ha was born in Seoul, South Korea as an only child. While her father was briefly in the picture for part of her early childhood, Robin’s mother soon finds herself as a single parent, which, with the conservative views of 1990s Korea, didn’t bode well for either of them. Almost America Girl is a memoir that begins with Robin’s early life in Korea, the difficulties socially and financially that she and her mother faced. Then when Robin’s mother remarries they take a vacation trip to the United States to visit her new extended family, however, this trip abruptly becomes permanent. Robin feels immensely betrayed by her mother with this sudden and intrusive change of home that she had no say in. She is cut off from her former home and is not even able to get to say goodbye to her friends. Barely knowing a word of English, Robin details the struggles and triumphs she experienced as a youth in a new country, with a new language, a new family, and the reflection and rebuilding of relationships and trust that comes with time.

Robin’s artwork is clean, visually appealing, and easy to read while also capturing the moods and feelings of each scene and emotion the author was looking to create. The audacity of the move that Robin had to live with is one that is hard to sit with. While her mother did what she had to for her daughter, I can’t fathom how difficult it must have been to have your whole life turned upside down in that way. One of the redeeming factors of this story is that her mother does enrol her in a drawing class and it is the first place she finds some belonging in her new surroundings which ultimately leads to Robin’s art career and creation of this book. Robin is also able to reflect on the differences between the two cultures she grew up in as she revisits Korea as a young adult.

While Robin’s story of change is not unique in that many people are forced to sometimes make dramatic moves and face similar issues of culture and language, Robin’s story details the difficulties of such an isolating experience for those that have never had to face such an ordeal, and places the reader within her shoes, highlighting why stories like Robin’s need to be told. It also highlights the resilience that it creates in overcoming such challenges.

I would highly recommend this book to teens, anyone struggling with feeling different, or for any graphic novelist enthusiast. Further, I feel that this book would be a perfect read to have within a high school curriculum as it helps to build empathy and understanding for anyone that has ever been perceived as different.