Ok, first. This is not a kid friendly comic for all that the narrator is Karen Reyes, a 10 year old girl who loves monster movies and sees herself as a monster.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is a sizable graphic novel at around 400 pages. It’s drawn as though on notebook paper with the faint blue lines and looks as though it is drawn with ballpoint pen and maybe colored pencils occasionally. Some of the pages have handwritten text so tightly packed and written in shapes and swirls of their own to compliment the art, and some pages have next to no writing.
Set in 60s, it tackles some tough issues and includes the assassinations of JFK and Dr. King. Karen lives with her mother and her brother Diego or Deeze, spends a lot of time there, but doesn’t necessarily live there, I don’t think. He is an artist, and encourages Karen to draw, as well as being a womanizer who has slept with Anka and their landlord’s wife among others. Their father is out of the picture. Shortly after the novel opens, Karen’s upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, is murdered. The door is locked and Anka looks as though she’s been posed on her bed.
Anka has always been very kind to Karen, so she decides to investigate the death that the police are calling a suicide. She makes herself a detective costume.
Over the course of the novel, it comes out that Anka had been a child prostitute in Berlin, and had fled the Nazis, which involved being the live-in underage mistress of a relatively powerful man.
Then Karen discovers that she likes girls. And her mother is diagnosed with cancer.
Large chunks of this graphic novel are gut wrenching, and it never wraps anything up neatly for you, although several answers are fairly obvious.
The art is highly evocative. The text can be a little hard to decipher with the way it bleeds into and blends into the images on the page. This is not an easy read, but it is worth it. This graphic novel deserves the praise heaped on it.
And while I do complain that we try to shield kids from too much in fiction that many of them are dealing with in real life, the density of this book feels like it would be too much for a lot of kids until they’d reached their late teens at the earliest. Ferris does a great job of emulating the syntax of a 10 year old girl, even when she’s tackling philosophical topics beyond the character, by recounting conversations with the adults in her life.
I highly recommend this book. It is not a horror story exactly, but telling you why might be giving too much away.
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