Thompson, C., 2003, Blankets,Marietta:Top Shelf Productions, 567pp
Awards: Winner of three 2004 Harvey Awards for Best Artist, Best Graphic Album of Original Work, and Best Cartoonist and two 2004 Eisner Awards for Best Graphic Album and Best Write/Artist
Summary: Blankets is an intimate and touching story of growing up, of first love, and of a search for spiritual truth. Craig, the main character, shares the emotional and painful experience of growing up in a world where religion is more law to be obeyed rather than a belief to give hope. Instead of finding comfort in the spiritual teachings he’s surrounded with, Craig is haunted by fear of sinning and of being punished so he’s growing up to feel guilty about himself, his thoughts, and feelings. At school he’s bullied and cast out as a misfit. Loneliness and confused feelings make up his world until he meets Raina at a church camp. Craig recognizes Raina as a fellow outcast and is instantly drawn to her. The chemistry between the two is electric; they connect, and develop a relationship. At the end of camp, they separate physically but maintain their relationship through mail sharing intimate poetry and drawings. With some manipulation of parents through both of them, Craig and Raina arrange for Craig to come and spend two weeks with her. When he first arrives at her home, Raina gives him a gift. It’s a blanket she’s made from special patches of fabric. Craig is touched by the thoughtfulness and intimacy of her gift and wraps the blanket around him. During these two weeks, Craig’s eyes are opened to another kind of family and another kind of world. All that he sees and hears while he’s there is seen and heard through his eyes of love for Raina. Their connection, even when not physical, is extremely intense and when it finally does become physical, it transcends into an almost spiritual experience and changes Craig forever. The end of the two weeks comes and the two must separate and go back to life as it was before the trip. However, the intensity of their feelings and relationship has forever changed them both. Though they try to stay in touch and to be friends, it doesn’t work. Craig finally says goodbye and they move on in their lives.
In most novels, we get to know the characters through their actions and thoughts given to us in the text. In Blankets the characters are developed, not so much through written words, but through amazing drawings. Craig, the main character, is an introvert who struggles to understand himself and his world as he grows up. His fears and confusions surround him like the cold snowy weather in the setting. Craig’s loneliness is so real we feel it when we look at the bare trees standing in the cold frozen ground with nothing to shelter them from the wind. When Craig meets and falls in love with Raina, we can see Craig’s character and his perspective on the world change. There’s still snow and it’s still bitterly cold, but there’s something different in him and that’s hope. Raina is another character who struggles with her feelings. She has concerns and worries about her family. Two of her siblings are Down syndrome children adopted by her parents and she is very protective of them especially since her parents are divorcing. Raina’s world and her sibling’s world are shaken and they are filled with insecurities and sadness. Ben, one of the special needs siblings, seems to understand what’s happening more than the other and is quiet and withdrawn. Laura, doesn’t seem to understand. Her immaturity allows her to be easily distracted by amusements. Perhaps she isn’t mentally old enough to truly understand what’s happening. All of the characters in this book have issues they must battle, even the parents. All characters are very real and you’re drawn into the story of their lives, feeling their sorrows and happiness. Upon finishing this book, you will feel like you know these families and you’ll find yourself , at least I did, wondering what even happens to them.
I loved this book and was totally blown away by how powerful a graphic novel could be. It left me wanting to read more of them but also wanting to share this experience with others like myself who haven’t tasted an adult graphic novel. I think the appropriate age range for this book is ninth grade and up. The themes and characters seemed more mature though I’m sure younger students could connect with this book. I would not choose this book to be used in the classroom as a whole group read or as a small group read. I think the content is very intimate and I think it would be best read independently. I would have it in my library and I would refer to it when appropriate. The drawings in this book, for me, are what make it so profoundly moving. So, I would refer to it to show how much can be felt and inferred with the use of only black and white ink.