The road to god knows... an original graphic novel about hope, friendship, mental illness, schizophrenia, and a young teenage girl coping...
6 journalers for this copy...
1. As a kid, I almost never read comic books, unless it was at the cabin at the lake and I had already exhausted my mother's supply of Harlequins and my grandmother's supply of Alfred Hitchcock or Ellery Queens and it had been raining for days on end. Then sometimes I'd pick up a dog-eared copy of one of my brother's Archies or Richie Rich but I had to be really, really desperate for reading material. I think I bought into a perception (implanted by my elementary school teachers who deigned to allow the boys to do their book reports on Classics Illustrated) that comics weren't real books but something lower class and therefor far beneath me to actually read. I do remember once, being behind on my book report obligations for school, picking up The Prince and the Pauper in Classics Illustrated, thinking it would be a easy quickie report, only to be heinously bored by the comic itself.
2. When I met my current SO, he was a comics collector and we'd spend hours and hours in the comic book store as he poured over all of the various new editions of the comics he collected and considered collecting. Every week we'd leave with at least one or two more comics than we'd taken home the week before. It amazed me that he'd spend hundreds of dollars a month on this habit - buying two of any comic he actually wanted to read (one to read and the other to carefully encase in special plastic bags (only the good ones) as protection against any possible damage.) Nutso, I'd think. But I indulged him, even going so far as to search for myself (and find to much rejoicing I might add) the elusive (at the time) first printing of Spawn #2. Weren't Image comics the greatest! I even decided to get in on the collecting bit and started my own collection of "Shaman's Tears". But I never read them. And wouldn't you just know, the comic I picked only lasted for maybe a dozen editions.
3. And I have never ever considered reading a graphic novel. Although I must say I've always like the looks of the Dark Knight covers. I suspect that if I were somehow desperate for reading material and had the choice of only graphic novels, I'd pick a Usagi Yojimbo! A Ronin Rabbit, how cool is that!
So what, you might ask, am I doing now reading and reviewing a graphic novel? And how did I come to pick this particular one?
There is nothing I like better than reading and promoting (celebrating) Canadian books. It irks me no end to go into the Coles store nearest my work and have to hunt to find Canadian books on the fiction shelves. The "local Interest" section is paltry at best. Oh trust me I squawk about this to the store managers all the time - they probably think I'm some kind of nut. Perhaps they're right. But how can it be that on Gabrielle Roy's 100th birthday, they didn't have a single book by her on their shelves? I wanted to buy one! If I could, I would open up a bookstore and the only books on the shelves would be Canadian books.
Oh I could go on and on, but let's try to get me back on topic. Another person who obviously loves to read and celebrate Canadian books is John Mutford over on his blog The Book Mine Set. How thrilled was I to discover his blog. For the last four years I've participated in his "Canadian Book Challenge". Read and review thirteen Canadian books, read the reviews of all the other participants and even win prizes! Bliss! And lucky duck that I am I have won umpteen of his prizes - Canadian books all!
So many lovely free books that I was starting to feel guilty about it all and thought it was high time that I contributed something to the cause. So I asked John what I could do. John replied that he would love to have some graphic novels in his prize pool but that to date none of the publishers of graphic novels had seen fit to respond to his pleas.
Graphic novels, eh? Canadian graphic novels. *Gulp* What did I know about them? Zippo. Nada. Nothing.
So off I went to the websites of Drawn and Quarterly and Top Shelf to investigate. Yipes, alien territory! Okay I found Jeff Lemire at Top Shelf and Louis Riel and Chester Brown (already reviewed by John) over at Drawn and Quarterly, but what else was Canadian? What else was new and different and exciting? Prize worthy?
So I Googled "Canadian graphic novelists" and came up with Von Allan. And, brazen brat that I am, I emailed him and said, "How'd you like to donate your books?" And the sweetheart said, "Absolutely".
A little more investigation on my part (ain't google great) revealed that Von, who with his editor wife self published his books, has given away lots of his work in the process of putting his work "out there". So it seemed only fair that I give back a review in consideration of his generosity.
So here I am ...*on the road to god knows...*
First of all, I think that I eschewed graphic novels in the first place because I've always considered them to be almost exclusively in the realm of fantasy and super heroes. A fellow BookCrosser has said that she likes to read books that are not like real life. She lives a real life but when she reads, she wants to go some place else - some place she'd never imagine. She and I are opposites. I love books that are real life. I have to be able to relate to what happens in the books I read - see myself or someone real in the situations faced. The fiction I love to read has to be believable.
I love Canadian literary fiction and I don't mind reading books of doom and gloom (which sometimes seems to be the big theme of Canadian literature). David Adams Richards' Mercy Among the Children, for example. I "enjoyed" reading that book, the writing was beautiful but really, it has to be one of the saddest books I've ever read. Given my preconceived notion about graphic novels being about fantasy and superheroes did I really want to read a story, as the back cover describes, "of a teenage girl coming to grips with her Mom's schizophrenia. [...] struggling to grow up fast; wrestling with poverty, loneliness, and her Mom's illness every step of the way"? Would anyone? Maybe that's way too real life for folks that want to disappear into some place else when they read.
The short answer is that yes, I did want to read this. But I admit that it was not without some qualifications. I hoped that the story would not be too bleak.
My own childhood was probably as "normal" as you could want for a kid, idyllic even. Further, so far as I knew, all of my friends had the same sort of normal, idyllic even, life that I did. Of course there was poverty, but no one ever starved. Of course there was addiction issues; some parents drank. Of course there was what would now be labeled as physical abuse; most of us got spanked, some even knocked around. And of course, kids being kids, there was teasing, ridicule, and what would now be labeled bullying. And yet I look back at that time in my life as being, well, perfect. I don't remember anyone having a particularly hard time of "growing up". I was always confident of my parents' love, and the all-for-one-and-one-for-allness of my sibling and friend relationships. I had no reason to believe that things were any different for anyone else I knew.
As an adult though I have come to realize that things are not and have not been so perfect for other people. Perhaps they were not so perfect for my childhood friends either. I now know what it is like to live with and be caregiver to a mentally ill person. I look at the now adult children of that parent and wonder what their childhoods were actually like and how their experiences with this parent have affected them. I see in them what I suspect is the fall-out of having lived with a mentally ill person. Thankfully, I am an adult and can make reasonable decisions as to just how much I will let this mentally ill person affect me. Her children are adults now too and have made some decisions with respect to their relationships with their mother that in the circumstances are pretty understandable. But they weren't able to do that as children.
In my professional life as a lawyer I, not infrequently, represent mentally ill parents in court when Child and Family Services apprehend their children from them and I sometimes represent the children of mentally ill parents in those same sorts of court proceedings. In each case I have a job to do and I do that job, but sometimes I just feel like taking those children home with me. What do you say, what do you do when a child no older than six or seven says that his/her mother screams at them and frequently says that she hates them and wishes they were dead (and worse things) but that they(the six year old child) knows she doesn't really mean it?
So yes, I wanted to read this very personal story by Von Allan of "Marie, a teenage girl coming to grips with her Mom's Schizophrenia."
On the other hand, I was very taken by the cover art. It is quite beautiful. The muted colours, the black, the autumn leaves, cracked sidewalk, iron railings, street-side front porches, and, in particular, the "lost cat" flyer, spoke to me of sadness, loneliness and poverty. One young girl, all by herself, pack on her back striding along. Where was she going? Was the whole big heavy world contained in that back pack? The picture itself is tilted 45 degrees suggesting an additional something a little off kilter. I loved this picture when I first saw it. It gave me hope for the rest of the book. I loved it again when I came across it in the story. In black and white it was even more stark and dark and weighty. And I loved it again when I finished the book and even as I look at it now, some two weeks after finishing the book. But now, interestingly, I see a bit of purpose in Marie's walk and even, dare I say, a bit of jauntiness with her pigtails swinging in time with her stride.
In fact I find it quite interesting that two weeks after reading the book Marie and her story remain with me and I think I have a better appreciation of the "graphic novel" that I really did not expect when I started this journey.
I am not used to reading pictures. When I read a novel, I read words. I read them left to right and create my own pictures in my mind as I read. With any luck ( okay, not luck - good writing) I will picture what the author wants me to see, I'll develop relationships (or not) with the characters. I soon discovered that you can't just read the words, left to right in a graphic novel, you have to read and absorb the pictures. At first, this was a bit of work for me (not the author's fault at all - but my own "illiteracy"). I didn't know how to read a graphic novel. I'd zipped along and read all the dialogue in the introduction in probably 30 seconds flat and, while I knew basically what had happened (Mom's come home from the hospital and is somewhat confused) I did not have a true sense of the characters and the significance of the events. It was only when I went back and tried again and spent some time reading and absorbing the pictures that I got a better sense of the setting, time lapse, mood and all those things that words in a novel usually impart. So, not only does the graphic novelist have to be a good writer, she or he'd have to be a good artist too. Perhaps I was under estimating those Classics Illustrateds and my classmates who did their book reports on them!
I think that Von Allan's artwork is superb in conveying the setting, mood and flow of time. The story unfolded like a movie. If I had one criticism of the art work when I first started to read it was that the expression on the characters' faces and their body language did not always truly reflect what I assumed their emotions and actions to be. For example, on page 17, Marie is attempting to escape the kitchen to catch a favoured TV program in the living room. It's clear from previous panels that Mom has been wanting to have a heart to heart talk with her daughter, but both of them have been avoiding the topic by immersing themselves in meal/tea prep and eating. The last panel on page 17 has Marie making a bee-line for the living room with Mom reaching across to stop her, saying "Wait". But her face looks angry and the reach looks like a rather menacing grab. When I turned the page I expected to find out that Betty had hit her daughter, but instead I was surprised to see them embracing. I got the sense that I had clearly "misread" the picture on page 17 and that the fault for that must lie with the artist. There were other instances too where the facial expressions of Marie and her friend Kelly did not quite match what I assumed they ought to be.
In real life, facial expression and body language are important communicators. We usually read subtle variations with ease. For example, a furrowed brow can be indicative of puzzlement, anger or concentration (among many options) and we usually have no trouble reading which it is. Such that when I started reading 'the road' the mismatch was somewhat discomforting. I would think that artists of "flat" or "cartoon" characters would have an easier time of it than artists who choose to draw "real life" characters. I would not expect, for example, Sailor Moon to have such a wide range of emotion as I do of Marie.
I do have to say though that as I read the book and came to know the characters my discomfort entirely disappeared, and I stopped "misreading". I assumed that either this was due to the artist getting better as he progressed through his work or I was becoming more in tune with the characters.
And really interesting to me, now, two weeks later, as I searched for and found the page 17 example to give you, when I looked at it, it was not nearly as incongruous as I had thought the first time. Now Betty's face looks more anguished or desperate than angry. And that might signify any number of emotions, actions or outcomes. In fact, it occurred to me that Marie herself would likely experience a similar discomfort as my own when she tried to read her mom's expressions. Did that anguished face mean Mom was angry, sad or upset - majorly or minorly and what could Marie expect her mom to do as a result? Cry, lash out, have a meltdown?
As a whole, Von Allan has presented a very realistic look at how mental illness can affect a family. As I got to know Marie, I felt like I do towards the children I meet in real life in similar circumstances, that I wanted to take her home with me and give her a life free of the burdens her mom's illness has forced upon her. Adolescence is hard enough without all the extra stress, including having to be a parent to your own parent and bearing the brunt of that parent's abuse.
I wanted to ask the Dad, "What's wrong with you? I can understand that you might not have been able to bear a continued relationship with your wife, but how could you leave your daughter alone to deal with it?"
The author allowed me to have some sympathy for Betty. She was, despite her illness, basically a loving mom. But I did want to shake her and ask her why she had not gotten the help she needed. Yes, I understood, she had an illness, but it was her responsibility as the person with that illness and as a parent to get the proper treatment.
I loved that Marie had a good friend, one in whom she could confide the tough stuff, one who understood, one who supported her in the things she liked to do, even if it was something crackpot like wrestling.
I'd like to say to Marie, "Guess what! I used to follow wrestling too. And, do you know whatever happened to Kamala?"
I'd like to say to Marie, "You're gonna be okay....Oooooh Yeeeah!"
And I'd like to say to Von Allan, "I can't imagine caring a rat's ass for Sailor Moon, or Archie, or Batman, or even Usagi Yojimbo, but you made me care about Marie. Good job!"
I noticed that the author introduced each chapter with a song fragment. Although, he says that these are "traditional" as in the "public domain", I didn't actually immediately recognize the songs. So as I read the book I gave them only passing notice, although I was curious about their significance when they seemed appropriate to the story. But as I was writing the above review, I Googled them all and played the songs while I typed. What a delightful bonus!
1. iiwi (in the Netherlands)
2. Esme-Weatherwax (in Ireland)
3. lucy-lemon (in the U.K. - can send back to N. Amer.)
4. Minerva101 (in Alberta)
5. aliaschase (in B.C.)
6. allthesepieces (in Pennsylvania - prefer N. Amer. shipping)
...and back to Pooker3 (Home on May 8/12)
Left today for an adventure in Europe. First stop the Netherlands! Enjoy!
I feel the author was still searching for his drawingstyle sometimes, but he kept away from the pinupgirllookalikes. All characters do resemble normal postures, not overly skinny, not overly beautiful.
Btw: I liked that the bookcrossinglabel with the mapleleaf fits the first page of the story, where mapleleafs are also very prominent.
I found the drawing style to be ok. I really liked his background work, but the work on the people I did not really care for. However, I liked the fact that he drew the people as gritty and not attractive. Overall is is a very good 1st graphic novel.
* side note: I don't understand the whole wrestling thing, but I do understand that it gives Marie a way to escape the crap that was going on in her life.
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
I am glad that you shared this, Pooker3, as it is not a graphic novel that I would pick up of my own accord. I tend to stay away from stories hard rooted in reality in favor of pure entertainment and escapism - I live in real life and very much want something more 'out of this world' when I read for fun. It's good to step outside that box sometimes and challenge myself with reading material that wouldn't make my personal cut.
Again, I will watch for further works by Von Allen to see how his work changes and evolves.
I will mail this on to aliaschase tomorrow :)
Anyway, I will be making release notes when I am finished reading the other book in this Ring, and will send them both onwards. :)
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
To the finder of this book:
This book was released today as part of the Canada Day release challenge running from June 23 to July 2 in celebration of Canadian books and authors. I hope you enjoy the book and Happy Canada Day on July 1st!
Welcome to the wonderful and wacky world of BookCrossing! Here you'll find a unique and worldwide community of book lovers sharing their books. This book is now yours! Read it, enjoy it. Keep it or pass it on to someone you know or even release it back into the wild as I did. If you make a journal entry (either anonymously or as a BookCrossing member) all previous readers of this book will be notified by e-mail and can follow this book on its travels. BookCrossing is free to join, completely confidential (you are known only by your screen name and no one is ever given your email address) and it's a whole lot of fun!