"[A] group of small-town kids find themselves bound together by geography, boredom, and a string of mysterious turtle mutilations. Years later, with Army tanks rolling through the streets of their hometown, these young adults are forced to confront painful questions of privilege, duty, betrayal, and courage" -- from publisher's web site.
Lee is a typical young boy growing up in a small town in the midwest in the 1980’s. He’s a quiet kid, who daydreams of GI Joe and heroes like his father, whose in the air force. He meets Purdy, a young boy who lives down the street, who also dreams of war and fighting and being a better warrior than his dad, although Purdy will tell you he’s a SEAL and an Army Ranger. Also entering their world is Sarah who struggles to find out whose mutilating local turtles and…making the villains suffer. Together they grow up, apart, and back together and have to answer questions about choice, war, hope, and belonging.
With Nate’s work it isn’t really possible to discuss his art and story telling in two different paragraphs, in part because in many places the illustrations are the story. And while that should be the same for any graphic novel/comic it really hits home with Nate’s works. In many places there are long stretches where the panels tell an evocative story of growing up and attempting to make friends. The main protagonist in this story, Lee, really resonates with me. Not because I would day dream about soldiers and war all of the time, but because I would day dream. I’d sit in gym and imagine something else going on, I’d go outside and my imagination would run rampant. And I also had friends like Purdy. Who would dream of being a solider and who would exaggerate the accomplishments of their father to fit in. Nate has accurately captured the feeling and mentality of real life with his story telling. I can relate to each and every character that Nate has crafted and feel like I really know them.
And his illustrations are pitch perfect and his ability accurately capture the expressions of the human face is amazing. I really love the expressions on Lee’s face when he is younger and that feeling that Nate captures, such as when Lee is sticking his tongue out while hauling a piece of lumber. It’s just a natural gesture that you can imagine yourself making and Nate captures it so effortlessly. The characters movements on the page are natural and fluid and it feels like we’re watching something from real life as it happens. These aren’t stale and static pictures.
The biggest issue I had with really understanding this work is right at the end of the book. And part of my problem is that I expected the reality to consider (yes the characters day dreamed so it was fantasy, but it was still reality.) But Nate surprises us with weaving together multiple daydreams/time lines together. And the understanding problems aren’t really Nate’s but mine. My expectations diverged and I had to read the book a couple of times to fully appreciate and understand what was going on. I also found help in reading an interview that Nate did with Graphic Novel Reporter about the book and the insight he offered about what he was thinking with the ending. I do wish that there was an afterward or perhaps a foreword that these types of events that Nate depicts in the last part of the book…are real. It would have gone a long way to clearing up some of the confusion I had.
Clearly this isn’t a book for everyone. It’s one that requires a couple of reads and most likely a bit of time to process what you’ve read. And yet…it’s still a book that I think everyone should read at least once and it deserves a place on many bookshelves. Nate Powell is a master illustrator and a fantastic storyteller. And I for one can’t wait to see his next work. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.