Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Carl Carter, the hero of Jesse Lonergan's new graphic novel All Star, is a golden boy: he's treated better than he deserves a lot of the time. And, as this story unfolds -- at the beginning of the summer of 1998, when Carl is a senior near graduation and the star of his high school's playoffs-bound baseball team -- he comes to realize that, to be unhappy with it, and to fight against it at least a little.
Actually, Carl gets both excused and attacked: his father is hard on him for not making the most of his talents and coasting (and that father is absolutely correct), while he's a BMOC at school where he can do no wrong because of his athletic exploits. His older brother -- who, confusingly, is also on the same baseball team, meaning he's probably been held back -- is more clearly resentful of Carl, annoyed that what he works so hard on comes easier -- and better -- to his slacker kid brother. And then there's Carl's best friend Edsen: when All Star opens Edsen is the only person Carl is really open and himself with, but then the events of the book drive them apart.
Edsen is a "bad kid," partially because he does get into trouble and doesn't do all of his school work, but as much because his father has a violent temper and his older brother is a womanizing creep. (Edsen could be the protagonist in a YA problem novel, and, in some ways, All Star should really be his story: the events of All Star affect him more, and the repercussions will affect him more, than they do Carl.)
So Carl is floating through life: academics aren't really an issue, the playoffs are looming but he's sure he'll do well, and a full scholarship to college will keep his easy-going lifestyle from changing. And then one very bad decision changes everything about Carl's life -- though it also does open his eyes to how people are treated differently, and maybe (just maybe) starts to turn him into a more thoughtful, better person.
Lonergan tells this story quietly and unobtrusively, allowing it to unfold itself with a deliberate, everyday pace -- there's a summery lassitude and aimlessness to the character's lives, that end-of-high-school moment before the real world kicks in and everything is possible -- and his thin lines add to that feeling. All Star is a very strong, grown-up graphic novel about a boy who still has a lot of growing up to do himself -- Lonergan has observed him well.
Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index