Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country, and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. Blankets is a tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith.
I think what I like about graphic novels is you don't get bogged down in the author's ramblings which can sometimes be a pleasure or many times be boring in lengthy, wordy novels. The pictures and space between words - especially in this book - give the reader the freedom to indulge in his own interpretations. It's a refreshing occasional change of pace.
His honest portrayal of growing up in rural Wisconsin, from playground bullying, being a social outcast, and his reference to a molesting babysitter all touched the heartstrings. But this wasn’t just a dark story of teen angst, there were many light hearted moments, and one scene in particular that had me laughing out loud.
With beautiful and atmospheric drawings and a wonderful story, Blankets is truly an expressive piece of art that evokes in the reader a strong feeling of time and place. A memorable read.
When Craig goes away to church camp, he meets Raina, who is a bit of a rebel. Raina smokes, drinks, and teases Craig with her fire-and-ice relationship with him. Most of the book is centered around their relationship and also Craig’s struggles with religion. And let it be known: this book does have a lot of religion in it. I wasn't prepared for that, and while I wasn't necessarily bothered by it, I did find the ending of the book to be a bit vague in terms of Craig's religious resolve.
The book does take risks—there are some graphic images of Craig masturbating, some graphic allusions to Craig and Lucas’s father sexually abusing them, and images of Craig and Raina engaging in foreplay. For that reason, the book is definitely more appropriate for older high school students. However, that does not mean the book ought to be censored, especially since these are topics relevant to many teens.
The ending of the novel, though, is too rushed—-Thompson quickly fast forwards and all of a sudden, Craig is twenty years old. I felt the plot did not tie up the ends, and I also did not understand the decision behind the demise of Craig and Raina’s relationship. For that reason, I am giving the novel a 3Q VOYA rating. If I could, I would give it a 3.5, since I was taken aback by how engrossed I became and how invested in the story I was. I am also giving is a 3P rating since many students will be intimated by the novel’s girth and put off by the rather dull cover; with some prodding, though, I imagine this novel will be very much appreciated. And naturally, the novel is appropriate for “S.” Overall, though, this was unlike anything I've ever read and seen, despite its common plot--and that's a high compliment, indeed.
Blankets is one man's sojourn in discovering the joys and pains of family, the heartache and the gut wrenching temptations of first loves, but most of all it is a diary of his struggle to find faith, God, and realizing that sometimes all the pieces fit together and other times they are scattered and senseless. This was my very first foray into the world of graphic novels, but it definitely won't be my last.
It’s the story of Thompson’s childhood and adolescence in small-town Wisconsin with a younger brother, a harsh father and a fundamentalist-Christian mother. A bullied loner, Thompson meets popular and lovely Raina while at church camp, and a later visit is arranged with her family in the comparatively huge city of Marquette, Michigan. He’s shocked by most everything he experiences during the visit, including that Raina’s charmed persona belies a home life where she shoulders tremendous responsibility amid divorcing parents and disabled siblings. Most of the middle of the book is a powerful exploration of first love -- the effortless conversation that continues deep into the night; the sexual awakening -- and his passion, art. He comes home a changed person.
In one sense the story feels small -- the point of view is definitely YA (at oldest maybe early 20s), very in-the-adolescent-moment, without much wisdom and perspective. (I wonder if it was an adult read at the library as a reminder to parents about what their own teens are experiencing?) But in another sense the story is huge (growing up, falling in love, questioning religion, finding a whole huge world outside your family) -- a nearly universal story and thus resonant. I raised my rating from 3.5 stars to 4 just over the course of writing these notes, and I think a group read is good -- the book develops further upon reflection/discussion.
Thompson’s graphic novel has a plot that is powerful enough to stand on its own. However, the artwork really brings the story to life. The coming of age story is beautifully told and Thompson’s painful transitions are more evident through the medium. Thompson’s relationship with his brother does fade away for the majority of the story and, though he returns to it at the end, the reader misses the presence. We wonder what happened to change the relationship between the two boys. The depiction of the surrounding characters, from the hairy jocks to the devout teens, says more to the reader about Thompson and his life than he could spend an entire novel explaining.
The tender way he describes falling in love for the first time immediately made me remember those first relationships in my own life. The blind devotion we show our early paramours is so relatable. The innocence and earnestness that pair so perfectly in our hearts when we fall for someone is at times hard to look away from, but beautiful to see.
As someone who also grew up in a Christian household and attended Christian camps, I could identify with some of the religious questions he brings up. For me, my faith boils down to believing in God vs. believing in religion. Man screws up. Man is selfish and petty and hypocritical. If you base your faith on the actions of the people around you, whether it’s your own family or the pastor of your church, you will inevitably be disappointed. Thompson comes to a different conclusion, but it's his journey along the path and his sincerity in searching that makes the book so enjoyable.
The way that Thompson writes the story allows him to float through his memories. He tells us about his first moments of infatuation, and then he takes us back to childhood memories of school bullies, and forward again to his observations of a man who is watching his family slip through his fingertips. He's at once observant and mature and touchingly naive. He talks about his vulnerability and the things he regrets with no hesitation. Though I'm sure parts of the book were painful to write, he never lets the reader feel as though they are intruding in his life.
BOTTOM LINE: Just a wonderful graphic novel, one of my favorites I’ve ever read. I wish the author had delved a bit more into his relationship with his brother, but I also understand that between siblings, sometimes the most important things are never said. If you’re a fan of coming-of-age stories and don’t mind a bit of teenage angst, definitely give this one a shot.
Review: I liked a lot of elements about this one, even though it was a fairly standard coming of age story. I felt the anguish and the ecstasy of first love, the way you feel like this is it and this is the only thing that matters in the universe, forever, and nothing can ever go wrong until everything goes wrong. I thought it had some interesting things to say about faith, whether that faith is in God or in other people or in yourself. I like Thompson's artwork a lot - it's simple but it's expressive and really conveys a lot of emotion but doesn't feel heavy. But above everything else, this book made me nostalgic. For my own high-school loves, sure, but mostly for an upper Midwest winter. Thompson renders the feeling of deep winter so perfectly and so clearly that it's practically another character. As a Yankee transplant to the South, I don't miss the reality of winter - chapped lips and dry skin and constantly cold toes - but the starkness of a snowy woods at night, or looking up into the snowfall and feeling like you're falling upwards, or just the simple pleasure of being warm and cozy inside when it's miserable outside… that I miss. But the rest of the story is well done and interesting and genuinely touching, too, and I like that I didn't get the happy ending that I thought I wanted. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: While I don't know that I would say something like "this is a graphic novel everyone should read", I can see how it ends up on those sorts of lists, and it would certainly be one that I think would be a good starting point for someone unfamiliar with the genre.
Not an easy read -- the first few stories are chilly and gut-wrenching -- but the emotional authenticity and richness more than carries one through. Highly recommended.
Maus will always have the Nobel award, but Blankets is the standard to which all other graphic novels will be held to.
Beautiful portrait of small town life...relatable and extremely readable.
While I admire the book’s artwork, story, and the author himself, it is difficult for me to write this review as I disagree with (but am mostly sad about) the book’s conclusion. As I was reading the book, I was hoping for it to end a certain way when in fact it went the 180 degree opposite direction. Of course, this is the author’s life so he has every right to write about and illustrate how he really feels, but… I was still very sad at the end. There’s no denying he has a gift for writing and illustration, though, and I would definitely pick up another one of Thompson’s graphic novels in the future.
The picture below is one of the illustrations dealing with the first night that he and his brother finally get their own rooms. After waiting so long for them after sharing a room for many years, it’s not hard to imagine what happens that first night. I’ll save that for you to read on your own, though! (This book has mature themes and I wouldn’t recommend it for those under 16 or 17.)
592 pp., 2003
I do not own it yet, I just borrowed, but planning to buy.
The graphics were absolutely breathtaking, while the story was just as beautiful. There were moments in the book where the artist chose to give us just the images with no words, and that silence worked fantastically well.
The simpleness of the story is what is most compelling about this piece of art, which fully deserves all the awards that it has gotten.
A memoir of that beautiful and brutal time when you're on the verge of growing up, Blankets follows two of Thompson's most important blanket relationships; the one he shared with his youngest brother and the one made for him by his first foray into love. In between this, there are crisis of faith, family and friendship. There are commentaries on the nature of cruelty in the world - the cruelty inflicted by strangers, by peers, by those that should be kind, by friends and by family. There's the realization that the simple lessons of youth are no match for complex questions which most people are ill-equipped to answer.
But, mostly, it's the lesson of the end of first love. And this is where Blankets is absolutely beautiful. Thompson manages to capture the nearly perfect arc of the teen relationship without trying to paint either himself or Reina with some false wisdom or insight to improve past versions of themselves. This is the true emotional impact of this story.