Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Review: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

Sometimes when you read outside of your comfort zone you are richly rewarded. And sometimes you remember why you don’t often read a certain genre. I freely admit I have trouble with graphic novels and I am not much of a YA reader so Melanie Gillman’s As the Crow Flies had two fronts on which to try and broaden my reading mind. Now, I have in the past come across a few YA novels and one or two graphic novels that I really, really enjoyed, so it can be done. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen here.

The story is of Charlie, a thirteen-year old girl, who has been signed up for camp by her parents, apparently against her will. And it’s not just any camp but a majority white, Christian, feminist, Outdoor Experience camp when Charlie is black and queer and likes sitting on benches, not hiking and exploring. Charlie isn’t terribly open to the other campers or the experience right from the get-go, showing combinations of typical teenage attitude, unhappiness, and even depression. The only positive thing she can see about the whole experience is her immediate and all-encompassing crush on the lead counselor’s young adult daughter, which seems to be shorthand for declaring Charlie’s sexuality as it isn’t addressed any other way. With her crow’s feather talisman, Charlie plods through the uncomfortable experience of being in the minority in so many ways although meeting a transgender girl in the small group, as well as her crush help to make things less than consistently terrible. Gillman seems to want to criticize Christianity, white feminism, and cis-gender assumptions but it is a mild criticism for sure, manifesting mainly in Charlie’s conflict within herself about whether to confront the casual, thoughtless, and hurtful language the others use. And the story itself ends rather abruptly and without resolution, suggesting a sequel to wrap it up and perhaps to make more explicit what Gillman is trying to highlight here.

The art of the novel is rendered in colored pencil using muted, earthy tones, reflecting Charlie’s somber unhappiness and feelings of not belonging. There are pages of wordless and beautiful renderings of natural landscapes but the people are strangely cartoonish against the realistic drawings of nature. As the Crow Flies has been nominated for many industry awards, whether for its art or its story, I don’t know, so perhaps I have just entirely missed the boat like one of the unrealized and likely oblivious fellow campers Charlie is trapped with, so if you’re a graphic novel fan, and especially if you’re looking for one offering diversity in its main character, this might be for you. It just wasn’t for me.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

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