Rating: 4/5 stars because of the universal themes of coming of age and first love. The graphic novel format is a plus and adds to the perspective.
Length: 592 pages.
This is a wonderful and funny book that I read earlier this year through the recommendation of Flashlight-worthy Books. The book is an illustrated novel, drawn in black and white and tells the story of the author’s relationship with his brother, his experiences in Christian youth camp and his first love. It’s hefty, coming at about 600 pages, but every page is worth it and once you’ve started, you won’t be able to put it down. The final read time for me must have been under 3 hours, max, since I breezed through it. You will too, once you get engrossed in the story.
What I like about this one is that it says a lot without clubbing you over the head with it. The author was coming to terms with his faith and what his religion says at a time when he was experiencing love for the first time. This theme isn’t new but the format of the book allows exploration of the topic without bogging you down with heavy descriptions and details. The graphic strips make you visualize the scenes, rather than imagine them, making you feel as if you’re witnessing the scenes happening (like a movie) without projecting yourself into the book and experiencing the scenes as if you are the author. This is a novel method because it makes the book pleasant overall, yet it can still make you feel that wrenching feeling when you sympathize with the characters at all the appropriate times.
I won’t say much about the author’s experience with first love since it is what it is. Not to say that it’s bad. Not at all. It’s sweet. That was the main reason for me to pick up the book, but what impresses me long after I put the book down is the author’s relationship with his brother. It is in turns funny and heartwarming. The scenes when they were children sharing a blanket together are hilarious, but you pick up the feeling that they weren’t funny for the author when he was living them. They are the best case of adult insight, when you realize that what you had was great but you couldn’t appreciate it at the time.
I wanted to write hindsight there, but I don’t think it is hindsight. Hindsight implies that you consciously (or even unconsciously) come to an a-ha! moment when you realize you’re wiser than you were at a previous time. This wisdom allows you to understand the situation better than you could have when you were in the situation.
Which works here too, but I don’t think the author portrayed the book as if he suddenly had this greater insight. The tone never implied that. If the book implies anything, it is that as you grow older, you do come to appreciate whatever it was that made you who you are. No hindsight needed; just pure insight and wisdom from having experienced those events. You don’t necessary look back and go ah-ha! that’s why I am the way I am. If you do look back, you look at your memories with your adult glasses on and smile gratefully for them.
And I believe that’s what the author was doing here. His relationship with his first love and with his brother were portrayed as they were: as specific periods of time that never registered to the author as “momentous,” but actually were when he reminisces, and he does this without overbearing us with the realization.
Also, while the book doesn’t touch this at all, I wondered when writing this review: which relationship had the most impact on the author? His first girlfriend or his brother? There is no right answer, and in fact, there’s something wrong with having to choose one or the other, but I’m curious nevertheless.
A satisfying read overall.