My rating: 5 of 5 stars
now this is exactly, entirely, perfectly what a graphic novel can do that a regular novel actually can’t: give you a visual point of view that matters to the story.
in this case, the point of view is of a child, a young boy growing up in rather horrid circumstances. no quantity of well-chosen words will take you back faster than the view from under a table, or what a grandma’s butt looks like when viewed from 6-year-old height.
in the protagonist’s world, adults are often scarier than kind. having some familiarity with that, i found myself repeatedly chilled by the adults’ facial expressions, their body language, the disposition of their hands. as adults we forget how closely children watch us, endlessly reading us, which they must–they are quite literally in our power. when those adults are not likely to have a child’s best interests at heart, children observe even more carefully, because their well-being depends on an accurate read.
david small was clearly an acute observer. he had to be.
i read this book while chowing lunch, which got quite cold as my chopsticks stopped halfway to my mouth, and i found myself needing to turn the page rather more than i needed to eat. reading it was not a happy experience–don’t expect teddy bears and lollipops–but i was surprised by the urgency with which i read. if you missed out on a happy childhood, you may have the same experience.
graphic novels have a number of advantages over text-based ones. images can give a reader a sense of place that few novelists can approach; light and shadow can evoke emotional response; graphic style can convey everything from the passage of time to the emotional intensity of a passage; what happens between the panels can be novels unto themselves. david small took each advantage and pushed them to the limit.
if you still think graphic novels are for kids, or the reading-impaired, you just have no idea what you are missing.