I am a fan of Emily Carroll’s past work Through The Woods. This new graphic novel is very reminiscent of her earlier horror-inspired short stories, but this longer story is more adult with a lesbian erotica angle.
A feline young woman arrives at the castle ready to do battle with the Countess, who appears to be a beautiful vampire. But she immediately falls under her spell and becomes more of a guest, than a warrior. Her passiveness makes the vampire despise her and toy with her. She is escorted to a corridor of red doors, where fairytale-esqe experiences await her. After a few frightening scenes behind the doors, the feline is ready to attack the vampire. Their erotic but macabre embraces end in an ambiguous manner.
Carroll’s art is rendered in only black, white and red to great effect. Few panels are used, instead, the art flows dreamlike from one image to the next. Some illustrations include intricate details, making the pictures sensual and Gothic-like. The red splash pages that included the text of the fairytales were striking.
I came away from the story feeling it was atmospheric and unsettling, but with little in the way of plot. The dreamy aspect of it had some appeal, yet I felt dissatisfied with the story afterward. I don’t mind open-ended conclusions, but it needs to make sense. While seductive with lovely art, this story left me wanting.
The 1999 YA novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was a poignant, uncomfortable but terribly necessary novel about a teen-aged girl surviving rape. It is on many school reading lists, but also has been banned by some school districts for it’s mature content. In fact I had a long conversation with a conservative friend about the book, when our children read it during middle school for an English class, and whether parents and students should have the choice to opt out of reading it.
This graphic novel adaptation recently came out and was penned by the author and illustrated by Emily Carroll, best known for her eerie graphic short story collection Through the Woods. Carroll was an excellent choice, as her inky black, white and gray panels perfectly captures Melinda’s depression and internal struggle. Her depiction of realistic looking teens gives it a timelessness, so that you don’t even notice that no one has a cell phone, as it is based in the time frame it was originally written in.
As Melinda begins high school she knows she is an outcast, as most of the school knows she is the one who called the police to bust a drinking party a few weeks prior. Her former best friend Rachel won’t associate with her and other students jeer at and bully her. Her only friend is Heather, a new student, who doesn’t know her past. Melinda’s depression is quickly established and the ongoing closeups of her bitten bloody lips that signify her anxiety establish Melinda’s descent. Her parents’s marriage struggles blind them to their daughter’s muteness and retreat from society. It is only much later in the book that we discover the real reason for Melinda’s struggles- her rape by a popular senior at the summer party. I do not feel I am spoiling anything by saying Melinda was assaulted, for I feel most readers picking this book up are aware of the novel’s subject matter.
The narrative covers a school year, and in the end Melinda grows stronger and has some hard-won redemption. This adaptation, at 372 pages long, compared to the 198 pages of the chapter book, still had me at the edge of my seat during the scary confrontation between her and her rapist at the conclusion. I truly was impressed that this version is as strong as Anderson’s first book, and perhaps even more so, as Carroll’s illustrations aptly depict this difficult subject matter and Melinda’s journey towards recovery.
As to my earlier conversation with my friend about the subject matter, I voiced that I felt it was too important a topic to ignore, and students should read it. I stand by that opinion and would recommend it to teen readers who all should be educated as to the horrors and fall-out of sexual assault.
This collection of spooky short stories was outstanding! All five stories were gorgeously rendered, atmospheric and sinister in different ways.
Our Neighbor’s House– Each reader will come to their own conclusion as to what happened to the three sisters and who was at the door.
A Lady’s Hands Are Cold– The ghost’s song was beautifully haunting, I actually sang it aloud.
His Face All Red– Only the younger brother knows what really happened in the woods, and no one would believe him if he told the truth. Love the open ended conclusion, for you don’t why or who replaced the older brother. This was my favorite story and the artwork reminded me of Nimona, illustrated by Noelle Stevenson.
My Friend Janna– Another case of a switch, with the mysterious red pulse hovering above each girl in turn.
The Nesting Place– This story was the most obvious of the eerie stories, with the sister finding out the truth about her brother’s fiancé, but not being able to truly stop it.
Conclusion- Nice little twist of the knife in frightening you in the future. Morale of the story is to never let down your guard…