by Craig Thompson
The story is about the author's childhood, coming-of-age and innocent awakening to the wonders of love. It's painful to read at times, lovely at others. Craig grew up in a Christian family with well-meaning parents who managed to make him feel guilty about his body and plenty of other things as well, including his gift for drawing. He shared a bed with his younger brother and a lot of the memory parts are of them playing together, squabbling over space, cringing from their father's anger, consoling each other. As he grows older, they drift apart and Craig finds himself more alone as he doesn't fit in well at school. Even at religious camp he can't meld with the crowd and join in the mass mentality; he always feels apart. But there he meets Raina, and almost instantly loves spending time with her. Their friendship develops to the point where after camp is over, they write long letters pouring out secrets and affection. Finally Craig convinces his parents to let him go visit Raina. He finds that her family isn't perfect either: her parents are facing divorce, she is often left alone to care for two adopted siblings with special needs, and her older sister's baby. Even so they manage to find plenty of time to spend alone, and grow even closer. Long walks in the snowy woods, long talks in her bedroom, clandestine snuggling at night... When Craig returns home he wants to continue their connection but Raina feels that a long-distance relationship is too much strain. He also starts questioning his religious upbringing and trying to reconnect with his brother, in the process of all that seeking to find himself.
It really is beautifully expressed, everything from the awkward tenderness of first love to the sibling ties and rivalry to the troubled relationships with parents. The drawings filled with patterns and dreams felt wonderfully expressive of emotion. And I loved the scenery. Some panels just showed the trees reaching to the sky, or the houses sitting in drifts of snow, or the arrangement of a room, and it made the story feel so real and vivid in a place, just like paragraphs of description can do. I think so far this is my favorite graphic novel, even though quite a bit of it can be hard to take in- there is prejudice, unfairness and unkindness, hints of child abuse and neglect. But the wonderful moments and tenderness make up for all that.
Rating: 4/5 ....... 582 pages, 2003
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