I barely remember this book. I’ve intentionally shoved it aside. What they hell am I supposed to write here?
When I finished reading Blankets the first time, I put it down and said aloud to my family (we were on a road trip) “This book was great, but I’m not sure I’ll ever read it again. I got way too invested in it. Made me too emotional.”
In fact, I’ve tried not to think about it over the past four years since I read it (although I apparently thought of it when putting together this list). I’ve compartmentalized it and set it aside for now. Maybe I’ll go to trivia night one of these Wednesdays, and the question will be “What was the name of the coming-of-age graphic novel written by Craig Thompson in 2003?” and that will be the impetus for me to consider checking it out from the library again.
More likely, I’ll hit “Publish” on this article and re-read these words and decide I’m enough of a grown-up to give it another go. I’m a big boy now. I’m married and I own a house. I’m not afraid of little things like “feelings,” am I?
Or maybe I’ll be working on my interminable quest to write a young adult novel, and I’ll tap into the dozens, if not hundreds, of coming-of-age stories I’ve consumed in various media, and out will come a long-lost image of one of Thompson’s perfect black-and-white frames, and I’ll remember that this astonishing book is one of the reasons I’m hooked on this genre.
Rarely have I seen something so brilliantly take advantage of its medium. Creating this must have been a meditative, painful experience for Thompson: Every one of his memories and reflections on guilt, love, loss, and fate all tie together through pictures and words.
The autobiographical story is about Craig’s first romance as he falls for Raina. He grows distant from his faith and family. He comes face-to-face with his own scars by observing Raina’s. He visits her and leaves, and they break up.
And there’s not much more of a plot to it than that. There are no tremendous twists or cruel burdens of fate. This isn’t a cancer story or a tragedy with a deep, dark secret like Never Let Me Go.
In fact, Thompson’s story is really not all that noteworthy. It’s the telling that’s noteworthy, the beautiful and harrowing images of good things gone bad and the bitter turning sweet. Again, I haven’t picked up the book in nearly a half decade, but I still remember some of the frames: Snowprints fading away; a swirl of pleasure as Craig lies with Raina, his alarm clock unplugged; demons shooting out of Craig’s mouth; and Raina’s naked body falling to Hell. The best one of all, in context: it’s a snowy day, Craig and Raina lean in for a kiss.
The moments sound simple, maybe even cliche, when I just list them off. But it’s the way the book ties everything together, the way it reveals the complexities and indignities of losing innocence, that truly gripped me.
Blankets is a miracle of visual storytelling, an emotional roller coaster that wasn’t my own story but felt my own. There were elements I could relate to and elements I couldn’t, but I was 100% pulled in: as pulled in as I’ve been for any other story I can remember reading or watching or hearing.
This book supposedly caused a massive rift in Thompson’s family. It’s actually hard for me to imagine that it WOULDN’T. Craig doesn’t spare details in reflecting how his parents both lifted him up but also (and more often) kept him down. The portrait of Craig’s brother is somewhat dismissive, too. And Craig is hardest of all on himself, and how he strumbled through adolescence.
So, if you’re looking for something to challenge your preconceptions of what a graphic novel can be, or you want to experience a gripping story of first love, you should read Blankets, my favorite graphic novel ever.
I apologize that this recap has been somewhat devoid of details and specifics. I’ll stop rambling. If my reflection a mess, it’s because this book has made it tough for me to be anything but a mess when sifting through my memories of it.