Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fiction Review: Blankets

During the second half of 2014, I have been on a mission to explore graphic novels, after reading This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki and being pleasantly surprised by its emotional depth. All in one week, I heard two guests on the Bookrageous podcast both recommend Blankets by Craig Thompson as one of their favorite graphic novels and then saw it again on a list of 25 Essential Graphic Novels posted by Flavorwire. So, I requested Blankets from my local library. It was the first graphic novel for adults I have ever read, and all of the rave reviews were right on target.

Blankets seems to be a mostly autobiographical story of the author’s childhood and adolescence in rural Wisconsin. He grew up with a younger brother in a household ruled by his parents’ strong Christian faith, and their local church also played a prominent role in his childhood. Craig loved to draw from a young age, but otherwise, his childhood was difficult. He never felt he fit in with the other kids, was bullied at school, and had a very stern father. Like many people, he was close to his little brother when they were younger but gradually grew apart as they each struggled with adolescence.

As a teen, Craig even felt like the odd man out at church camp, until he met a small group of other misfits there, including Raina. Craig and Raina developed a strong friendship, mostly fed by long-distance correspondence, that eventually blossomed into his first love. This section of the book is especially powerful, as Craig’s formerly hopeless-feeling life is transformed by Raina’s love.

The entire graphic novel is depicted in strong black and white drawings filled with details that convey the pain and joy that Craig is experiencing, against the dramatic backdrop of a never-ending northern Wisconsin winter. Some of the drawings are very realistic while others are fanciful, showing Craig’s internal creativity, struggles, and feelings. As with This One Summer, I was astounded by how much feeling could be conveyed in drawings – this is not an illustrated novel, but the drawings actually tell the story, in great detail and with tremendous emotional depth.
Sample page from Blankets
Blankets is an engrossing, captivating coming-of-age story told with great feeling. Thompson effectively conveys the range of adolescent emotions – from sorrow to joy – as Craig struggles with his sibling, questions his religious upbringing, and falls in love for the first time. We watch Craig grow up, mature, and gradually begin to answer that age-old question, “Who am I, really?” I thoroughly enjoyed this as my first adult graphic novel and can’t wait to read more (I am working my way down Flavorwire’s list!).

592 pages, Top Shelf Productions

For more from the author, check out Craig Thompson's blog.

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