Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading Roundup: Youthful Nostalgia, Part 2

As I started brainstorming for a title for this post, I was struck by a sneaking suspicion that I had already typed the words I found myself typing. Turns out, about a year ago I reviewed two graphic novels that fall very closely in line with the two I am about to share now. (Hence "Youthful Nostalgia, Part 2!") They are both stories told with the wisdom of adulthood as the authors recall prior experiences and share their memories with limited prose and through carefully crafted illustrations. You could say they're told with a sense of nostalgia, but they're mostly a reflection, on the author's part, of impactful youthful experiences.

In Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's This One Summer, Rose is spending the summer with her parents in the same rural beach town they've visited every year. It's the kind of setting where kids are left free to roam and have typical "kid" adventures, while the parents get a break to relax and maybe do some work away from their normal work environment. For Rose, life picks up where it left off the previous summer. She reunites with her summer best friend Windy, and they navigate adolescence in a sort of suspended existence; they are the ones that change year to year as the world around them stays the same.

The Tamakis tell this quiet story of two girls on the cusp of the teenage years, the ones where they start to notice all the "adult world" things that exist, and have always existed, around them. It's subtley beautiful and perfectly captures the in-between years...but it's by no means pleasant. I found Rose to be at that annoyingly, precociously negative phase where she's just insufferable and needs a good kick in the pants. But to her defense, she is bombarded with these very real, serious situations—like marital issues, miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, and slut-shaming—that bog down any remaining childhood carefree naivety as she starts to understand what they all mean. I still can't completely decide if I really enjoyed the story, but at least I understand that maybe I wasn't supposed to. The art, though, is phenomenal.

I ordered this book for my middle school library after reading a lot of YA buzz about it, as I'm trying to find materials a little more mature for my younger-skewed collection. After reading, I decided it's definitely not going on my normal library shelves. (I made it a "back-shelf" book that I've given to a couple of mature 8th graders...and even they were a little thrown by the mature language and subject-matter.) Though the characters are middle schoolers, this story is more of a poignant remembrance on your first encounters with situations you know are way too old for you...and my students are not in that reflective stage yet. It's hard to remember life with a sheltered perspective once that shelter is gone. An older teen might "get it," but I also have to think of those sheltered 5th graders; and thinking about a 10-year-old picking this up and reading it with a parent makes me squirm.


I've said before that Lucy Knisley's graphic memoirs are ones I surprisingly really enjoy. Her most recent travelogue/journal, An Age of License, is no exception.

When Lucy is invited to speak at a comic convention in Norway, she decides to turn her hop across the pond into an adventure that takes her further afield to Sweden, Germany, and France. Having gone through a recent breakup, she grabs onto that mid-twenties bohemian moment where the "Why not?" commitment-free mindset leads to unexpected places and relationships. She once heard it called L'Age License, which basically means a "license to experience, mess up, license to fail, license to do...whatever, before you're settled." The phrase may or may not actually exist, but Lucy's own Age of License leads her to a new romance in Sweden, a reunion with friends in Germany, and a country respite with family in France.

According to my own recent statements on memoirs, I don't enjoy memoirs that have no extraordinary experience to share. And to be honest, backpacking through Europe in your twenties is more like a right of passage at this point than an utterly unique experience. And also, the mid-twenties angst of uncertainty is mind-numbingly over-represented. What makes Knisley an exception to my rule, though, is the way in which she tells her stories—I adore her illustrations. Her drawings, to me, add so much to the experiences she's sharing. The details create an ambiance of blissful memory that make us feel like we're being included in a private, special moment of the author's. We all have memories like that, where the details are seared into our brain; they're what make our own experiences unique to us even if they're completely ordinary to someone else. I think that's why I care more with Knisley. She doesn't just tell a story; she shows us what made it special.

1 comment:

Aarti said...

I completely agree with you on Rose - she WAS really judgmental and annoying. But, I have a feeling I was pretty judgmental at that age, too, seeing everything in black and white.