Vachss, Andrew & Frank Caruso. Heart Transplant. 2010.

I am partcipating in the timely #AntiBullyReads 2016 readathon that runs from November 14-20th. This Readathon is created and run by Sarah Churchill with the aim to start discussions about bullying and our bid to stand up for those who need it and never be a bystander. Check out this Goodreads page for more info. Earlier in the week I re-read Eleanor & Park, and had a guest post on The Green Onion about it, so I wanted to find a graphic novel that also dealt with bullying, which led me to Heart Transplant.

We first meet Sean as a nine year old, who lives a marginalized existence with a single mother who is more interested in her current boyfriend and her bottle of booze than her own child. When he discovers his mother and her boyfriend murdered, he is saved by Pops who is the father of the drug dealing boyfriend, whom takes him in and raises him. Despite the new stability, Sean is still bullied and an outsider at school. Pops tries some old-school methods of making Sean a man and taking him to a boxing gym to teach Sean skills to fight his bullies. Next we see Sean as a college student who learns some truths about Pops and the lessons he taught him when he was a child.

This coffee table sized book is quite clearly a “message” book, that didn’t quite hit it’s intentions as stated by the author on the inside flap or in the afterwards written by a social worker. Bullying is often supported by a society that does nothing to stop it, for when aggressors go unchecked, it becomes culturally acceptable (Trump!!). While the author’s lesson is worthy, the story narrative did not match. Pop encourages or turns a blind eye to Sean’s theft, provides liquor to a minor on several occasions, and teaches him to fight back physically instead of teaching other coping mechanisms. While I am not opposed to learning how to defend yourself ( I actually think it’s a good idea), it does not match the author’s intended purpose of changing the greater bullying culture.

I came away from this book feeling dissatisfied. I liked the purpose and the sketchy dark hued illustrations that were evocative of a rough edged childhood, but it fell flat for me. I can see merit in teachers reading it, but I could not truly recommend it to older youth for the mixed messages it presented.