A colleague asked me recently why I post only once a month on my blog. I told him that with all the work, ill father, social life, and other interests (dance, writing stories), reading one book a month is about what I can manage. He said: “Have you considered graphic novels?” He said some have real literary value and can be read in a day or two. So I listened to his suggestions and decided to start with “Blankets”. And am I ever grateful for the recommendation!
“Blankets” is a story of growing up and falling in love. My first associations with the notions of growing up and falling in love are pure happiness, joy, carelessness. However, the author shows us that a childhood can be ugly, dispersed with moments of true happiness that are recognized as such only in adulthood, when looking back.
The main character is Craig – the same as author. This “coincidence” is not the only evidence of the author weaving in a lot of the personal into the story. Craig is a boy who experiences the world as hostile, unfriendly, cruel. Bullies in school give him an extra hard time, the teachers are not sympathetic to his hardships and parents are too caught up in their radical Christianity (and maybe poverty) that they don’t give their children proper parental support, understanding and love.
But there’s Craig’s little brother (with that purest childish optimism and blind belief that something fun and good awaits around every corner), and there’s this bed and a blanket they share even when it’s so hot that even their spit dries up, or so cold that the blanket gets frozen and stuck to the wall. Craig seems to hate sharing the bed with his little brother, but throughout the book he keeps having flashbacks to those times and it is clear to the reader that in retrospect he understands that those nights, filled with brotherly rivalry, love, connection and unlimited imagination, were magical.
What I like about Craig Thompson’s version of childhood is his blending of poetry and the realistic. He shows us a world so painfully real (with the hints of their babysitter sexually abusing them, which was an especially sickening scene for me, even though there was nothing explicit), but so tenderly poetic that we want to reach out and protect those kids so badly.
The poetry is especially present in the second part of the book, where Craig meets a soulmate, falls in love and spends two weeks as a guest at her family’s house. She is a fascinating girl with a dreamy soul and a tortured mind and body, because she carries a heavy burden of responsibility for her mentally challenged adopted siblings, and for the state of the whole family that is facing her parents’ divorce. We see Raina through Craig’s eyes, and she is truly a beautiful person, inside and out.
“Blankets” also gave me a powerful, personal insight into what Christianity is like in the US. Here, in Serbia, religiousness is completely different. Kids don’t go to church on Sundays, they don’t go to church school nor do they read the Bible. People here are not raised to thank Jesus every day for saving them, and so seeing how that works in the US gave me the goosebumps, though I understand that a truly believing author would have given me a different perspective. Maybe.
I’m thankful to my colleague who introduced me to this type of literature, and I already feel richer for viewing the world with Craig Thompson’s eyes, for seeing it in his beautiful drawings and poetic words.