Wednesday is guest blogger day here on Adult Books 4 Teens. Every Wednesday, you can look forward to one or more reviews from graphic novel expert, Francisca Goldsmith:
Eating disorders, a teen (as well as adult) problem that regularly finds its way into both fiction and memoir, have appeared in several recent graphic novels. Lesley Fairfield’s Tyranny, Tracy White’s How I Made It to Eighteen and Carol Lay’s The Big Skinny each depict recovery stories in which aspects of eating disorders are addressed. The medium is well suited to showing the ravages of anorexia, the inaccuracies a sufferer of bulimia holds in viewing his or her own body, and the boredom and patient deceptions possible during hospitalization. Lay skillfully depicts good advice for maintaining newly gained health, including non-food habits needing change in the yo-yo dieter’s relationship with eating. In Lucille (reviewed below), the title character’s body shows the changes in physique associated with anorexia, as well as the small but perceptible weight gain she allows herself during a period of recovery. More effective than a text only description, the images reveal not just emerging ribs and too slender arms, but also sagging and empty breasts, and the ravages of starvation on Lucille’s young face. Physical weakness, unto collapse, is depicted realistically, yet without pausing in the story telling to fall into lecturing the reader.
This wide angled view Debeurme takes means his story isn’t “just” about anorexia, nor is Lucille at center stage alone. Life isn’t like that; no one has the only problem, the only solution or the singular drama. In this case, Debeurme offers a parallel narrative, showing us another teen, just slightly older than Lucille, who is also facing a hard life: Arthur has spent his childhood fetching his drunk father home from the bar, and as a teen faces personal failure during a fishing trawler tragedy. By the time he and Lucille meet each other, we might believe him to be the more damaged of the two. And yet Debeurme stretches our understanding of the complexity of life and relationships—with ourselves and with others—beyond such simple comparisons and contrasts. Arthur and Lucille are both essentially kind and wounded, but are keen to share the former with each other while trying to work through the latter on their own.
This demonstration of how complex life truly is for each of us, no matter what our most obvious problem may appear to be, vaults Lucille beyond the circle of “eating disorder novels” into the literary realm shared with stories that reveal life as multifaceted, through which each page and each scene is vested with its own meaning and purpose, not simply as a building block for the “main plot.” The main plot here is life itself, not just a single dramatic thread with the window dressing of background mini-stories. Debeurme belongs in reach of older teens who seek the maturity-affirming experience of putting personal demons into perspective, as well as description or explanation of what the demons are and where they might have hatched.
Adult/High School–Middle-class Lucille’s mostly happy and settled childhood planted the seeds of anorexia that overtakes her life in late adolescence. Arthur, on the other hand, came of age in a family in which money was tight, his father was abusive when drunk, and family secrets include paternal suicides. Debeurme introduces each of these well-developed and compellingly sympathetic characters separately before bringing them together as they embark on a road adventure that offers opportunities to start afresh as well as hazards that realistically collide with their high hopes in and for one another. Text and expressive, yet elegantly simple, black line cartoons rely fully on one another to reveal this narrative of external dangers, relationship victories, and internal demons. While this is a coming-of-age story that older teens, especially girls, will find insightful as well as engaging, the essential attribute of a graphic novel requiring that some information be imparted visually means that nudity and sexuality appear–and not in the least unnecessarily–in image. In spite of its weighty size, this is a one-sitting read that will resonate long after the story comes to what promises to be a temporary close.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA