This book was doubly daunting to me in that A) it's HUGE (seriously, the paperback copy is gorgeous and HEAVY) and B) it was my first graphic novel. I hesitated for over a month before finally digging in - and was immediately enthralled. The graphics are nothing short of stunning and they way Thompson is able to express so much with just the right balance of illustration and words is amazing. Talent? Thompson's got it.
The focus of the novel is on the short (but incredibly influential) 2-week relationship he has with Raina, a girl he meets at church camp and is used as a framework to reveal different parts of the past: his childhood & his relationship with his brother, their rural, fundamentalist upbringing with parents who are harsh disciplinarians, their past of sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter, and how all of that informs his decision to eventually leave the church. Not a light read, though there is much light-heartedness infused throughout.
My main issue with the novel is the sexual abuse that Craig & his brother suffer at the hands of a male babysitter. It's alluded to at first, and then a few pages later Thompson returns to it with a bit more about what happened. But then it hangs there for the rest of the story, with no follow-up, no exploration of its effects... nothing. Clearly it influenced his sexuality as he grew into an adolescent and then a teen, and the way he showed (or rather, didn't show) responsibility for his younger brother. But I wish there had been more direct integration of its effects later in the novel.
It's 582 pages of some powerful illustrations - sacred moments captured so beautifully and full of movement & nuance. Common moments in childhood are joyfully revisited as he & his brother Phil share a room growing up, while the loneliness of young adulthood is expressed with eloquence and heartbreak. It also contains a lot of big moments in a young persons life as Craig grapples with his religious beliefs, guilt about not protecting Phil better when they were little, family, first love and burgeoning sexuality. The pacing is not the best at points (especially the ending, which felt very rushed to me) and some important elements were left at loose ends but overall it was a really beautiful and emotional novel.
"But in that little pathetic clump of blankets there was comfort."
“I wanted a heaven. And I grew up striving for that world-- an eternal world- that would wash away my temporary misery.”
"Shame is always easier to handle if you have someone to share it with."
"I couldn't fathom that the soul trapped in my child body would be transplanted to its grotesque adolescent counterpart."
“Maybe I'm sad about wanting you. I'm not too comfortable with wanting someone.”