Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: Blankets

Blankets Cover
Blankets, by Craig Thompson, is a graphic memoir about growing up in rural Wisconsin.  Craig grows up with a very religious mother, a large and gruff father, and a younger brother with whom he shares a bed.  He feels very awkward at school his whole life, never quite fitting in, keeping to himself and preferring drawing to sports.  Every winter break, he attends Church Camp; there he is told that Heaven is nothing like the way he imagines it to be, and that to reach God he must sing.  Craig, though, would rather reach God through drawings.  One day at Church Camp, he meets Raina, a beautiful girl from Michigan who fascinates him and invites him to visit her after camp for a few weeks.  He does so, and much of the rest of the book explores their tentative young love and the aftereffects it has on Craig.  This moving graphic memoir shows the difficulties of growing up and questioning your faith, making full use of words and pictures to relate a beautiful and touching story.

I read this book with Ana.  We both thoroughly enjoyed it!  Check out her blog for the first half of our review.  And then come back here for the second half below!

Blankets Panel 
Ana (continued):  I came across a quote about the book on Wikipedia that I wanted to share: Thompson has said that the novel grew out of a simple idea: to describe what it feels like to sleep next to someone for the first time. Isn't that beautiful? Of course, the book does a lot more than just this, but it also captures that feeling perfectly: the tenderness, the longing, the hint of fear, the perfect happiness... ah, I'm getting teary-eyed again just thinking about it :P

Aarti:  Wow, I did not know that he and his brother had a sexually abusive babysitter.  Where did that come from?  Where did he show that?  I completely missed that!

I loved the acceptance on Raina's dad's face, too.  And then the way he went and apologized to Raina's brother for speaking to him as though he were a child.  Really, the whole time Craig was visiting Raina, I thought her father was wonderful.  That whole situation broke my heart.  He was so lonely and sad and I wished people would hug him.

I did notice the dedication at the beginning of the book!  I loved that, too.  I thought it was so generous and kind of him not to tell his parents about his crisis of faith because he didn't want to ruin eternity for them.  And the way he so awkwardly and sweetly reached out to his brother again and they bonded over drawing.  I also thought the way he portrayed his parents was so unbiased.  He didn't make them seem crazy.  He clearly understood their position and respected their devotion to God.  He just didn't feel it himself.  I thought that was really kind of him.  It is hard to portray people so sympathetically when their positions differ so much from yours on such an emotionally-charged topic.  But he did it so well.  You can tell that he truly understands both sides of the issue and doesn't judge anyone who hasn't gone through the turmoil he did.

I think this book really made me understand what you meant about graphic novels not being about the pictures and the words, but about the story.  Blankets is a sum of both parts- it was made so much stronger by the pictures, but I can't even imagine how he would tell this story in a traditional format and keep this sense of tenderness- almost a feeling of emotional fragility- in the tone.  It would tend much more to maudlin, I feel, whereas this format was just perfect with "showing, not telling" (literally!).  I thought it was excellent.  My GN enabler friend at work is giving me the author's previous book to read next, which I'm so looking forward to!

I also like the quote you shared!  I liked that he describes his first love in a way that makes him seem grateful for the experience, not depressed or "we should have been together forever" about it.  Clearly, Raina had a huge impact on him and the person he became, but he never feels sorry for himself for it not working out.  He never looks back wistfully, but just uses the entire experience to make him stronger.  I love that about the book!Blankets Panel

Ana: I think it's understandable that you missed it, because it really is subtle! (I hope anyone reading this doesn't feel we're spoiling the book for them...believe me, Blankets isn't really about secrets being revealed). I first suspected when, on page 18, he says he failed as an older brother because he couldn't protect Phil from something. Then there's that scene where the babysitter wants to tell Phil a "joke" and takes him to another room. And then later on, we're given a glimpse of what actually went on in the other room. But it's never addressed directly, and the feeling I got was that this was still a bit of an open wound, and he was saying as much as he could.

But anyway - the scene where he tries to reconnect with his brother really moved me too. I wonder if the fact that they both had this happened to them, and both knew the other knew but couldn't talk about it, was part of what drove them apart.  I also LOVED the fact that his relationship with Raina is never remembered with any resentment at all. Like you were saying, the whole book just seems to come from a place of such kindness.

That's fantastic that your friend is lending you his first book, by the way. Amanda mentioned on twitter recently that he has a new one coming out soon. I MUST read everything else he's written. I also got the feeling that the tone of this story couldn't possibly be the same had he used any other medium - and the tone is such a big part of what makes Blankets so special. Honestly, I suspect that very few comics writers explore their full potential the way Craig Thompson does.

Aarti:  Well, this is only my second graphic novel, so I can't really agree or disagree with you there!  But I think this one makes me want to explore the medium more in-depth than I did after Fun Home.  It was fascinating to feel so drawn into the lives of the people in the story, and feel a connection based on my reaction to just one page of panels.  I loved the physical act of looking at this book.  It was excellent.

And I agree this book isn't really about plot or anything else- it's much more quiet and reflective than anything else.   I don't think there can be spoilers :-)  But that makes much more sense about his relationship with his brother.  I am glad they were able to come back together after that, as they both seemed to benefit so much from their childhood closeness.

Ok, I think that's all I really have to say!  What about you, Ana?

Blankets Panel

Ana: I think I'm done too! I'll just say that if anyone is worrying that Blankets might be too heavy or depressing, worry not - there are moments of humour too. For example, the pee fight Craig and his brother have. It doesn't end well, but the panels before they're caught made me laugh out loud. It's such a little boy thing to do. Even though Craig didn't have a happy childhood, he still manages to capture moments of genuine magic.

Seriously, read this, everyone! Even if you've never read a comic before - or especially if you haven't. I know it's only January, but I can't see Blankets not making my end of the year list. It touched me like few books do.


  1. Loved the joint-reviews! I'm definitely adding this onto my wishlist!!

  2. Thank you again for reading it with me :)

  3. This one sounds incredible! I've added it to my wish list :)

  4. I really should read more books like this too.
    And love the joint review as always

  5. I really enjoyed reading your conversation, even if it felt a bit like eavesdropping. ;) Why do I always feel that way when I read people's buddy reviews?

    This was definitely one of my favorite reads from last year...probably one of my favorites of the decade!

  6. I've been wanting to read this book for ages but it's just so darn expensive! Waiting for a secondhand or cheaper copy.

  7. Enjoyed the eavesdropping, you two ;). I have been watching some of your first exchanges via twitter and have been excited to read the finished product.

    The combination of visual storytelling and subtle narrative heightening the tenderness of the story, a story that otherwise may not have had the same impact, is a point that I find most interesting and piques my curiosity about graphic novels being the most accessible -as well as most touching- form for memoirs.

  8. What an amazing book. I love that the idea came from describing what it was like to wake up with someone. Sounds like a beautiful book.

  9. I completely agree with y'all that this book came from a place of love, not resentment. Every aspect of the book is handled with kindness, even when it's clear Craig Thompson now no longer agrees with the words and actions of the people in his life. Such a great graphic novel.

  10. Melody- Yay! Hope you enjoy it :-)

    Nymeth- Thank YOU for waiting for me to read this!

    Clover- I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

    Blodeuedd- I just started, too, and I think this is a good one to read at the start.

    Debi- Seems like you really enjoyed it. Best books of the decade are HARD to beat!

    Mrs B. - I completely agree. GNs are not cheap at all, and hard to find second-hand.

    Paperback Reader- I agree. I don't really read memoirs otherwise, but they seem to lend themselves well to the GN format.

    Vivienne- I like that idea a lot, too. So sweet.

    Jenny- Yes, I really enjoyed it. You describe it exactly.

  11. This sounds excellent. I love the cooperative review!

  12. "Quiet, reflective, capturing moments of genuine magic.."
    This GN sounds incredible! I very much appreciated this heartfelt joint review from both of you.

  13. As I just said on Ana's blog, I absolutely loved the review that you ladies did!!! Just perfect!! And I'm so glad that you had a good experience with this one Aarti :) It's exciting seeing you enjoy graphic novels :) Though I can't see anyone not liking this one really. There's so much to be captured by in this one..just gorgeous.

  14. Thank you for the wonderful discussion, Ana and Aarti. I am looking forward to reading this even more now.

  15. Stephanie- I really love joint reviews, too :-)

    Julie- It *is* quite good.

    Chris- Yes, it's exciting to be getting INTO GNs. I think I'll read his previous work, too :-)

    Literary Feline- Can't wait to see your thoughts, too!

  16. I'm late, very late, because I just had to read the book first. Oh this was so wonderful! You guys did an excellent job - I have no idea how I'm going to review this! You guys mentioned several of my favorite parts, especially about the father when he found them together in that one part. I never thought about the connection to Fun Home (probably because I didn't like fun home very much) but that's interesting to think about.

  17. Yay, Amanda! I'm excited to see how you form your review. I hope we didn't give too much away in our discussion, but I honestly don't think "spoilers" really matter in this book.

    I think I only compared it to Fun Home because a) Fun Home is the only other GN I've read and b) they're both about family and the impact of family.

    I loved the father part!

  18. I am looking forward to reading this book.

  19. I'm going to try my first graphic novel this year ... and this one seems very promising if I feel like the format is one I can handle.

  20. Anonymous1/30/2010

    That's interesting you'd be touched by a graphic novel. I've never read one and it didn't occur to me they could touch a reader? I assumed they were all action adventure/comedy.

    Love the conversational format in this review. :)


    from the desk of a writer

  21. Wonderful review you two! I really am going to have to get this one back out of the library at some point. With each review I've seen since I keep finding little touches I missed the first time around.

  22. I havent read a graphic novel yet (groan - I know!) I see good looking ones like this one and want to read them - then I go to the book store and only find ones that look like cartoon sand action heroes!

    This is the year i am reading one of these! Just need to find one I would like :)

  23. This was a really great joint review! Like you, I haven't read many graphic novels. I own a couple of them, but I am not sure if they will work for me, so I have held off on reading them. One of the ones I have is Fun Home, and I have heard mixed things about it. My husband hated it, and didn't even finish it. After reading this joint review, I think that Blankets is something that I would be much more comfortable with, and it might just be the place to start for me. I like that there are so many emotional levels to the story, and that everything is so subtle and gentle. I also like that it deals with a character who is trying to figure out what belief system works for him personally and that he deals so respectfully with those whose beliefs differ from his. I really think I have finally found a graphic novel that fits for me and will be looking for it. Maybe my husband would like this one too. Thanks for the detailed scoop on this book, it made it really easy for me to see why IA should get invested.

  24. I really, really enjoyed yours and Ana's thoughts on Blankets, which I just finished reading, too! Absolutely a gorgeous, tender story -- so happy to have discovered it. And through the magical world of book blogs, no less! :)


I read every comment posted on this blog, even if it sometimes takes me a while to respond. Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.