Book review: ‘Calling Dr. Laura’ by Nicole Georges

Calling Dr. LauraNicole Georges grew up believing her father was dead. The youngest daughter of a woman who seemed to shuffle men faster than cards at a blackjack table, Nicole struggled with her mother’s whims as well as her changing identity. After her older sister comes out, it seems all the more important for Nicole to cling tightly to her own secret — and it’s slipped that her vanishing dad might not have disappeared in the way she thought. A fateful call to Dr. Laura Schlessinger realigns Nicole’s thinking — maybe just in time to confront her complicated past.

It’s been so long since I picked up a graphic novel. The ones I’ve enjoyed in the past — like Craig Thompson’s Blankets — blew me away . . . so I guess it’d be fair to say I had high expectations of Nicole Georges’ memoir-in-illustrations. Described as “part coming-of-age and part coming-out story,” Calling Dr. Laura was an interesting work.

You know, I have a ton of respect for Georges. She grows up in a home full of secrets and half-truths, and I think my favorite portions of the book were the moments she explores her childhood. As an artist, Georges’ style is fun and retro (check it out). I’m certainly no expert on these matters — art is a fuzzy area I studied one semester in college, like, eight years ago — but I appreciated her illustrations and the way she characterized her young self. As she suffers heartbreak and finds solace in life with her dogs in Portland, Ore., it’s impossible not to feel the confusion and hurt stemming from a break-up.

But as a narrative? Calling Dr. Laura didn’t captivate me. The central mystery in Georges’ work is, of course, that of the missing father. Who is he? Where is he? Why did he walk out on the family? Is he still alive? And I get that, through the course of the memoir, we’re led to understand why Georges’ dad is of less importance than, say, her mother: the person who, for better or worse, was there through it all. But I couldn’t help feeling unsatisfied. By the book’s close, I knew I should feel something — especially after the bombshell epilogue. But though heartbreaking, I didn’t feel as emotionally connected to Georges as I wish I had.

Still, Georges’ story will appeal to fans of graphic memoirs and GLBT-themed stories. Though Georges’ orientation is not the story’s focus, it’s an important part of how she relates to her family — and why she doesn’t just confront her mom about the past. It seems crazy that a lie so big would stretch between a group for so long, but Georges does a remarkable job of probing her family’s history while still leaving a little mystery intact. I enjoyed it and wouldn’t hesitate to read more of her story later on.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0547615590 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

Booking Through Thursday: Getting graphic

booking_through_thursLet’s go Booking Through Thursday, shall we?

Last Saturday (May 2nd) is Free Comic Book Day! In celebration of comics and graphic novels, some suggestions:

• Do you read graphic novels/comics? Why do/don’t you enjoy them?
• How would you describe the difference between “graphic novel” and “comic”? Is there a difference at all?
• Say you have a friend who’s never encountered graphic novels. Recommend some titles you consider landmark/”canonical.”

Funny I should see this question today . . . mostly because my ex-boyfriend has been trying to “convert” me into a graphic novel reader for years! Most recently, earlier this week — and I steadfastly ignored his requests.

Well, sort of.

mausI have read a few graphic novels — all at his request. And I enjoyed them! Art Spiegelman’s Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History is most notable — definitely an incredible work . . . and I never thought I could cry while reading a graphic novel. Maus is the story of the Spiegelman family — Vladek and Anja, survivors of the Holocaust, and their son Art. The novel takes us through Vladek and Anja’s lives and their ultimate arrival at Auschwitz, but it’s also the story of Art’s relationship with his dad and his mother, before she committed suicide. Certainly heavy subject material — and much heavier than I anticipated a graphic novel could be (I’m prejudiced, I know).

In Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, the Jews are drawn as mice and the Nazis portrayed as cats. Art frequently interjects the unraveling story of World War II with his conversations with his father, often irritated and full of miscommunication. Art’s relationship with his father was extraordinarily strained, even though both may have wished it otherwise. And the graphic novel seemed to be a superb vehicle for juxtaposing the horrors of the past with the quiet, mundane nature of the present in New York City. I don’t know that this story, as a traditional novel, could ever have worked . . . the images are so striking and so powerful, it’s as if they’re burned on your retinas. You forget that we’re dealing with “cats” and “mice” here — you know they’re people. You know they’re people others loved dearly.

So I can’t say I don’t like graphic novels . . . I gave Maus a resounding 5-stars on LibraryThing, and I’m going to grab the next installment soon! But I can say that as a whole, I’m just not into graphic novels / comics (and I couldn’t really tell you the difference between them, other than the length of the story). What I really love about reading is my ability to create worlds inside my head — my ability to actually “see” the characters, the setting, the storyline playing out. I love letting the words surround me and getting lost in them, searching for more or less than what’s there. I don’t contest that you can’t be really moved by a graphic novel — I was — but I don’t think that the emotional impact on me is the same. And it’s not so easy looking for allusions and subtext in a graphic novel, is it?

Maybe I’m just being close-minded about the whole. Palmer would argue that’s the case! He’s passed many graphic novels along to me, and most of them are still stacked up by my bed. Maybe for the upcoming plane ride! We should all strive to expand our literary horizons, I think.