"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."


Monday, May 14, 2007

Escape from "Special"

Escape from Special
Author: Miss Lasko-Gross
Publisher: Fantagraphics
ISBN-10: 156097804X
ISBN-13: 978-1560978046

Escape from "Special" is a witty, funny and gorgeously illustrated graphic novel about a young girl named Melissa from the time she’s about four or five till just before she enters high school. I loved Melissa because she was smart, opinionated, irreverent and sarcastic.

Her story is told in anecdotal snapshots of the memories of her life as she remembers it. There’s no glossing over or making it pretty, this is raw. Her hippie type parents Jaqui and Todd put her in one school after another and the story makes great fun of the new agey types of schools as well as those schools that do their level best at trying to compartmentalize children. Melissa’s intelligence and her disdain for the attempted pigeonholing shine through the book even when she is put in a so-called “special” school for children with learning disabilities.

Melissa wants to escape from it all. She challenges everything and as I read each wonderful little chapter, I agreed with her. I loved it when she challenged her parents as they try to cram religion into her. Melissa’s response is great. She says it’s too late now, that they should have tried that crap on her while she was still young enough to fall for it. That had me laughing out loud.

There’s great stuff in this story and a lot of struggling going on. There’s the struggle to rise above the crowd, not fall into the trap of conforming, being part of the herd while still trying to find a place to belong. There’s the struggle to be herself while fighting her own insecurities. Melissa’s struggles reflect the deeply confusing interior life of a teenaged girl trying to find herself and be herself while doing her level best not to stand out. She wants to fit in and not be noticed as much as she disdains those to do fit in.

The gorgeous illustrations have a quiet and intense depth to them and seem to reflect the inner Melissa as much as the wonderful chapter titles like Cheese Steak of the Damned. At times the illustration is moody and bored, at others scared of the dark black and white and others angry with washes of color to reflect her emotions. It's an intense palette and a fascinating technique. Text and art intertwine and emote with a particular poignancy.

Escape from "Special " is highly recommended with a word of caution for those averse to a little strong language. The language fits and is even funny but some may have a problem with it. I personally thought the use of the word “cuntiness” entirely appropriate and side splittingly funny.

Book Description from the publisher:
A moving debut graphic novel about the pain of childhood.Fantagraphics Books is proud to follow up our launch of rising star R. Kikuo Johnson (author of the acclaimed Night Fisher) by showcasing Miss Lasko-Gross in her graphic-novel debut. Escape from "Special" is the coming-of-age story of Melissa, who we first meet as a small child and depart from at the end of the book just before she enters high school. Willful, funny, and perceptive, Melissa unsentimentally questions religion, identity formation, and treacherous female "friendships" as she tours with her parent's band, battles with her therapist, and bounces from school to school. Subjected to the whims of her bemused parents and, as the years pass, rejected by her peers, the opinionated Melissa copes by watching horror movies, psychosomatically vomiting to get out of temple, and making comics.Escape from "Special" recalls a not-too-distant time when girls flaunted their knock-off Esprit and shared best-friends necklaces broken in half.
The semi-autobiographical story unfolds in a series of brief anecdotes, expressionistically dredged as if from memory, without self-regarding exposition and uncorrupted by a nostalgic haze. Drawn in black and white and washed in moody blues and full spectrum grays, Lasko-Gross's art, with its detailed backgrounds and expressive, clean-line characters, exquisitely conveys the story's blend of humor (sometimes of the gross-out variety) and keenly observed insights. Miss Lasko-Gross, who has the sensibility of a love child of Linda Barry and David B. midwifed by Judy Blume, has created a graphic novel that should appeal not only to the growing readers of graphic novels, but to teens grappling with similar unresolved questions.

1 comment:

SZYQZY said...

I have known Miss since she was a baby. I was her babysitter. Melissa was always a creative, sensitive, child who struggled to be true to herself while trying to make friends. Though some of the names have been changed, I know most of her stories and the other people, as well. Melissa was often misunderstood by the other children and their parents. It is my hope that Miss realizes what a "special" child she was despite her inability to "fit in".