I don’t know what I expected when I chose this graphic novel from the HPL’s “Read 15 in ’15” list (http://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/library…). I was just trying to make sure I had a title from as many of their categories as possible. The only other graphic novel I’ve ever read is Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, and my takeaway then was, well, that wasn’t any of the comics I read as a kid, the beautifully drawn and colored ones about mythical characters like Robin Hood and King Arthur and Thumbelina and Moses.
Neither is this. The hero, the eponymous Craig, grows up in rural Wisconsin, raised by inflexibly religious parents. He has a younger brother and they attend a religious school where the teachers tell them to focus all their attention on getting into heaven. It’s the same school where later, hilariously (I laughed, anyway), Craig learns that going to art school leads directly to becoming a homosexual. One year he is sent to bible camp, where he meets Raina, a beautiful young woman who is unlike anyone he’s ever met and with whom of course he falls in love. That winter he spends two weeks with her and her family and falls even more in love.
This isn’t Cinderella, Craig and Raina don’t live happily ever after, but there is something so poignant about their story of love and loss and Craig’s coming of age that when I finished it, I had to sit there with the book in my lap for some time, paging back through it, revisiting my favorite illustrations, and rereading the ending over and over again. Paraphrasing Edmund Gwenn, dying is easy, adolescence is hard, but Craig gets through it, he grows up and moves away to the city, and comes home for Phil’s graduation and wedding and for family holidays. If he can’t quite bring himself to tell his parents that he has left their religion behind him, if he and Phil never refer to the babysitter who sexually abused them both, he does move on to become his own man with his own life.
He never sees Raina again, but that isn’t the only thing that makes this novel so real and so very bittersweet. That time is pretty far away from me now (thank heaven), but I would not hesitate to put this book in the hands of every teenager I know. They will every one of them see something of their own lives in it.