I didn’t plan to read Blankets so soon. I wanted to immediately after reading Darren’s review, but I held back. I have so many other books on my shelf and this was a 600-page graphic novel costing $30 plus tax. I couldn’t really afford it. But then Lu read it and went raving. Then Chris. By that point, I compromised and put a copy on hold from my library. I knew I wanted to own the book one day, but I figured I could wait. Maybe I’d ask for it for Christmas or my birthday or something. And as the library copy sat on my desk, waiting for me to get to it, Ana and Aarti both read it and raved about it all over twitter (and later on their blogs). It was time. I needed to read this.
So I may be the last on the bandwagon here, but believe me when I say that even if you’re tired of hearing about this book, it is well worth getting your hands on a copy. I have to say this rivals Shaun Tan for my favorite graphic novel. Even with all my hopes so high after so many marvelous reviews, Blankets did not disappoint me.
The basic premise of the book: this is a memoir (slightly fictionalized, but mostly truthful) of Craig Thompson’s childhood and teenage years. It talks about his relationship with his brother as they grew up in a strict, religious household in rural Wisconsin. It touches on sexual abuse and bullying in school. It is a coming of age story and the story of first love. It touches on the family life of his girlfriend, Raina, whose parents are going through a divorce and who has two adopted mentally handicapped siblings. The book also deals with Craig’s relationship with God and his sorting through the things he learned at the fundamentalist church every week. All of this is wrapped up in beautiful artwork that is at times almost too intimate to bear. So so beautiful. After reading the library’s copy, I gathered up my coupons and Border’s Bucks and got my own copy. It’s that good.
There were some things that surprised me in reading it, though. I’d gotten the impression from everyone’s reviews that Craig’s parents were domineering, cruel, abusive parents who were religious zealots as well. I was picturing something out of Carrie. However, it’s not like that at all. His father was a little grouchy and distant. His mother was mousy and quiet and very devoted to her religion, but not in a creepy or crazy way. They go to church every week and the church they go to is very fundamentalist. The parents are very conservative. They don’t believe in sex education or teaching evolution in school. This is not uncommon, and it certainly doesn’t make them religious crazies. Their reactions to things their kids did were not (usually) extreme. For example, when they find Craig drawing pictures of naked women, they don’t hit or hurt him, they simply talk to him about how this is something God wouldn’t want him to do. I don’t agree with their beliefs, but they seemed to be very good-intentioned and good-hearted people. They were teaching him what they believed in and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This was far from what I was expecting when it came to the family aspect of the book. The love story aspect was more like what I expected, though I hadn’t known about all the dynamics of Raina’s family. The growing relationship between Craig and Raina was so beautiful and yet so young, inexperienced. I hated the decisions they made, but I understood why they made them. As with all memoirs, I wanted to know more. I wanted to see what happened to both characters years afterwards. But this is real life, not fiction, and in the end, I can only see what the author saw.
When Craig holds baby Sarah and says Hello as Raina smiles at them.
When Raina’s father finds the two together in the morning and his face changes from anger to understanding. He never says a word. That made me cry more than anything else in the book. What a marvelous man he must have been.
All the panels that showed Raina while she slept. So beautiful.
The heartwrenching scene where the painted tree is painted over bit by bit.
I could go on and on, but really, just get a hold of this book any way you can. Library, bookstore, heck even sit down for a few hours in a bookstore to read this without buying (if you can resist buying after you’ve finished). This is utterly brilliant. I can’t wait for Thompson’s next book, Habibi, which will hopefully be finished this year.