Book review: ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson

It’s rare to find a novel that so succeeds in reaching right into your chest and yanking your heart out, but Craig Thompson’s Blankets did just that.

This graphic novel is an autobiographical look at Thompson’s young life, beginning with his early days growing up in a strict Christian household in Wisconsin and sharing a bed with his little brother Phil to entering high school as an awkward adolescent, eventually arriving at church camp — where he meets the lovely and troubled Raina, the young woman with whom he falls hopelessly in love. Blankets is a story of family, pain, suffering, abuse, religion, love — and moving beyond those things to form your own identity.

And it spoke to me — and stuck with me. I borrowed this monster of a novel (600+ pages) from the library, rushing over on my lunch break to grab my copy. By 10 p.m. that evening, after many fits and starts with regular life getting in the way, I’d closed the final page. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever forget what I saw.

Thompson’s look at love is stunning; his portrayal of his relationship with Raina encompasses so many of the sensations and fears that accompany falling in love for the first time. Walking through this story visually — as opposed to a traditional book — was a really different but enlightening experience. As I hunkered down in my favorite chair with Blankets propped precariously in my lap, my mom walked by and squinted at it.

“What are you reading?” she asked. “Is that a big coloring book?”

No — definitely not. The novel lacks any color at all, but it doesn’t need it; everything is there, inside the bold blacks and whites of Thompson’s lines — and maybe outside them, too. It’s a story about permanence, change and the danger that comes with loving. It’s about loss. And to me? About what we can — and can’t — be for each other. Especially in those early relationships, how can we know which crevices to fill — or how to love each other enough? Can it ever be enough? Can it heal the wounds that opened long before we ever arrived, holding our arms open to this person?

How can we know it’s forever?

We can’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less beautiful.

And now that I’ve waxed philosophical about this novel, first recommended to me by Lu at Regular Rumination, I’ll add for those who don’t traditionally read or enjoy graphic novels: trust me, I’ve been in your ranks for a very long time. And I won’t say that Blankets will completely convert you to the graphic novel genre, because I can’t say that I prefer it to a traditional novel (or ever will). But Thompson’s story is too gorgeous to be missed.

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1891830430 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library at Lu’s recommendation

Book review: ‘French Milk’ by Lucy Knisley

The people! The places! The food! Paris comes alive through the art and photographs of Lucy Knisley in French Milk, her memoir of one month spent in France with her mother in January 2007. The novel is her creative, personal travelogue of Parisian life that defined a pivotal time in her own life.

The novel is actually a graphic novel — graphic in the sense that it is hand-drawn by Knisley and is, in fact, a visual diary. Lucy, 22, is set to graduate from art school and, like many soon-to-be post-grads, is battling the dreaded nausea experienced when many students imagine leaving college and finding a job in The Real World. Lucy has lived independently in Chicago, where she has many creative friends and spends time with boyfriend John, but she chooses to spend the time after Christmas and between the start of her final semester in France. She and her mother embark on a grand adventure that takes them far from home as they battle language barriers, mysterious foods and homesickness — all while learning more about themselves.

So I’m obsessed with traveling and art, and when I first read a review of French Milk a month or two ago? I was all over this. But it wasn’t a book that made its way into my hands until just the right moment . . . and I’m so glad I just found it. It’s a fast read, obviously, considering it comes in at under 200 pages and is full of vivid, interesting black-and-white illustrations. Lucy’s narratives and art are offset by actual photographs from her trip, which I loved. Comparing her interpretations of scenes with real pictures was so fun to me.

By the time I finished French Milk — only about an hour or so after I’d started — I absolutely felt as though I’d snuck onto the plane with the mother and daughter duo and feasted on the same foie gras in the same cafes. Lucy is very honest and realistic about her growing pains — the fears she experiences as she leaves behind her young adulthood and prepares to enter a new phase in her life. As someone experiencing the same pangs, I really related to her. Immediately after graduating from college in 2007 — Lucy and I are the same age — I took a trip to Europe with my family, visiting England, Italy and Belgium. That vacation completely changed who I was a person, much in the same way that Lucy’s time in Paris fundamentally changed who she was — as a person and, I’m sure, as an artist.

Visually experiencing Lucy’s story was very different than reading about Lucy’s experiences — in a good way. I loved her sketches of the delicious food they consumed (and my stomach was grumbling the whole time, let me tell you) and felt like I, too, was standing on the Eiffel Tower as it swayed in a strong wind (terrifying!). I have very little experience with graphic novels — it’s limited to Art Spiegelman’s Maus and a few comic books an ex-boyfriend pushed on me — but I was open-minded about this one and wasn’t disappointed.

What did the story lack? Emotional resonance. What I felt while reading the book had less to do with Lucy’s reactions to what she saw, felt and tasted and much more to do with my own personal experiences in Europe. I enjoyed the novel for what it made me remember and what it showed me, but I would have loved to know more about what Lucy was really feeling about being apart from John — a stranger in a strange land. Learning about Americans’ traveling experiences abroad is a subject of total fascination for me, and I would have loved to see more about the cultural differences and funny anecdotes about language barriers.

But, then again, this was Lucy’s travel journal — not mine.

If you’re new to the graphic novel genre or just aren’t sure “seeing” a story this way is for you, I still encourage you to give French Milk a try. The subject matter — travel, glorious travel! — was enough to draw me in from the get-go. And I dare you to not want a big, healthy gulp of cold, sweet and delicious French dairy after closing this book! Francophiles and travel bugs will get special enjoyment out of this novel, too, and probably want to hop on Expedia to book their summer vacation after finishing. Speaking of which, a few travel websites are calling my name . . .

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416575340 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg