It's a brick of a graphic novel, but I read it in one sitting. Well, one sitting-on-the-stool-drifting-to-the-couch-back-to-the-stool-can't-put-it-down-while-I-get-a-drink-from-the-fridge-holy-crap-I-read-the-whole-thing. I'm not usually one to pick up a heartfelt coming-of-age first-love story, especially when set in the frame of a fundamentalist Christian environment, but I loved Thompson's Carnet de Voyage enough that I was willing to give this one a go. It is a miracle of the graphic novel that things I often find grating and uncomfortable in prose regained a bit of magic with the combination of pictures and words. The A-plot, the melody, the bit that probably drew most people in were what I sat through for the grace notes, the curlicues around the edges, the side-stories.
This book worked for me for two reasons: 1) Thompson's attention to the small mundanities, especially when they're a little bit dirty, that make me giggle even as they ring embarrasingly true (c.f. the bit with the bunny in Carnet de Voyage talking about the euphemistically kind 'traveler's stomach': 'it sounds like I'm peeing but it's coming from my butt!', or in this book, where the two brothers forced to share a bed as kids end up in a pee war - and when did this review become all about pee?) and 2) my unexpected identification with the protagonist's struggle to fit in/not fit in with his uber-religious surroundings. My family was not religious like the protagonist's, not at all, nor were they emotionally manipulative/abusive like in this book, but the neighborhood, the all-pervasiveness of a certain brand of Christianity rang discomfitingly true. It made me feel awkward and awful and outsidery all over again, if grateful that I didn't have to fight against myself like the protagonist did, too.
The whole magic-of-a-first-love bit probably plays a lot better to an audience who had
that kind of teenage magic love. I found it as awkward and earnest and uncomfortable and wistful as it was watching people have those first loves in high school. So, you know, success, but it did kind of make me want to retreat back into the arms of science fiction and fantasy novels, just like high school.
But really - Thompson's attention to the little details, both in words and in drawings, is kind of magical.