Tuesday, December 20, 2011

GN Review -- How I Made It to Eighteen / Tracy White

Imagine you're seventeen years old. You find yourself less and less involved in all the things you used to love in your life. You use drugs to escape the feelings isolation and depression, but that only works for so long. Gradually life seems to lose any and all its flavor, and all you can feel is a drab kind of depression. Uncertain you can feel anything at all anymore, you do something rash, causing serious bodily injury to yourself, desperate to feel something genuine, even if it's only pain. That's what leads to the beginning of the events in How I Made It to Eighteen.

Compiled from a number of "sources," including interviews with the protagonist's friends, doctor and psychiatrist case files about her, and narrations of the main character's present and the past actions that led her here, the story revolves around author Tracy White's avatar, the ironically-named Stacy Black, who has checked herself into a mental institution. She's suffering from depression as well as a number of other issues, and at some point has put her fist through a window, just to see if she can feel anything real. That incident is what makes her realize that something is seriously wrong, that she's really unhappy, and that she wants to feel happy again.

Conveyed through artwork that is almost amateurishly simple yet striking in its subdued portrayal of the depression Stacy suffers, it's easy to see why readers would call this story a downer. There's plenty of white space on the pages, which is emblematic of the emptiness Stacy feels. For a while it feels like Stacy will never change, as she begins to help others yet rejects their own advice to her, suggesting she's too comfortable being miserable. Even the story's abrupt ending makes you wonder where the payoff is. Sure, she realizes she needs to change, and apparently she does so, but why not show it?

I'm uncertain whether to categorize How I Made It to Eighteen as a graphic autobiography or a graphic novel, since it's clearly about the author, though with plenty of artistic license thrown in--hence White's "guaranteed 95% true" statement regarding it. It's not a huge deal, as both will simply go under the GN umbrella label for my purposes, but I can see how the blurring would cause frustration for some--particularly librarians trying to catalog and collocate this book--and glee for the anti-labels crowd.

I have mixed feelings about this work, personally. The story is good, but not exactly a fun read, and I can see why others might patently dislike the subject and tone as well as the structure of the story. The artwork is not impressive at all on a technical level, but conveys the intended gloom of the author very well. I do think this is a good graphic novel for anyone who's dealt with depression, bulimia, and/or drug use, as well as anyone who wants to see graphic novels used as a medium of personal expression. Others might take it or leave it. Moderately recommended overall.

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