Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just booklove miscellany in general.
I read these two graphic novels in keeping with our current reading theme. While both books deal with similar themes, the portrayal is startlingly different and present a continuum of how gender identity and sexuality are explored – from middle grade to adult comics.
In Telgemeier’s Drama, the young reader becomes privy to a play within a play within a graphic novel format. Instead of focusing on the lead roles of the musical, Telgemeier highlighted the interesting characters behind the scenes: the ones in charge of the set design, make up, costumes, carpentry, sound booth, lights – the lifeblood of any successful theater performance. Callie, the main character, appears to have a knack for liking the wrong kind of guy: either they seem to be insensitive brutes who do not know their minds (Greg), or they’re gay (Jesse).
The fascinating aspect in this graphic novel is how surprisingly lighthearted it is, and how open and confident Justin, Jesse’s twin gay brother, was portrayed. I also like Callie’s exuberance, zest for life, and her tenacity in crafting something absolutely beautiful.
While it may be construed as a largely unrealistic depiction of how boys who are different are actually treated in society, I find it such a refreshing change.
The characters were not bullied for being different or were they ostracized for being ‘weird’ or ‘strange.’ They simply are the way they are. I love that the entire vibe of the narrative is one of open-mindedness and simple joy, despite the fact that there is confusion and yes, lots of drama.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home on the other hand, deals with loss, unarticulated grief, and an exploration of the self that borders on therapy. Definitely not for children, this graphic novel awed me. I haven’t come across any ‘tragicomic’ that is so erudite, literary, and offers such a fearlessly-incisive insight into what it means to be a lesbian and have a gay father.
From a social scientist standpoint, this is a case study of a lifetime. As a reader, I was deeply fascinated by the dynamics between father and daughter, the long-suffering and silent mother, and the almost-invisible brothers. There are scabs of pain here that may still reveal burning wounds, peeling away at the edges, but still raw and hot to the touch. There is yearning – particularly during the latter part of the graphic novel when Alison has come to terms with who she is – but of a different kind too that has been buried in layers of indifference and neglect and aftertaste of regret.
It was interesting how father and daughter communicated through literature. Most of Bechdel’s allusions are lost to me, not being a Literature major myself. I have not read Remembrance of Things Past or James Joyce’s Ulysses, or even Homer’s The Odyssey. I have a lot of catching up to do, I know. Nor have I read a few of the feminist writers that she made mention of during the latter part of her self-discovery.
Yet, despite this, I was drawn to this family tragicomic – in its masterful attempts at being facetious and effective use of intellectualization as a Freudian defense mechanism; and in the glimpses of vulnerability amidst the white noise, the glaring truths that need to be excised – simply because they exist. There is a grasping need to own all those pieces: the good, the bad, the ugly; the horrid, the scandalous, the unbelievable – as they are the fragments that make up one’s being in our fumbling attempts at self-definition and self-realization, whatever that means. Needless to say, this is a beautiful book. This, despite its being highly controversial recently (see here for the Publishers Weekly article on the controversy in South Carolina). Maybe not suitable for all types of sensibilities (as you’d be able to see from the article just cited), but one that will find you when you are ready for its truth.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Published by Scholastic, 2012. Bought my own copy of the book.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. Borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.