Friday, January 10, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #10: Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez

I've been staring at this blank page for a good half an hour -- interspersed with looks at what I've written about Gilbert Hernandez in the past, in hopes that would give me a way in -- and I'm still at a loss of how to start to write about Hernandez's semi-autobiographical story.

Do I mention the obvious influences, like Peanuts and Dondi? Do I muse that Gilbert is wandering into his brother Jaime's territory -- most obviously Jaime's great recent story "Browntown," also a story about growing up Hispanic and working-class in a small Southern California city -- and speculate about that? Do I try to dig into the "semi" in that semi-autobiographical, and try to sift Hernandez's remembered childhood from his fictionalized story? Do I point out that this is one of the best-reviewed and most lauded graphic novels of last year, and endorse that judgement?

I could do any of those things, but none of them seem adequate. Marble Season is assured and self-contained -- the former is standard for Hernandez, but the latter is more rare -- telling the story of one boy growing up in the mid-60s somewhere in Southern California: the hardscrabble, tickytack part of SoCal, far from the beaches and the mansions and the beautiful people, where kids fight and play and scheme and steal and lie and torment each other. And, more than anything else, in that pre-Internet world, they talk to each other -- about the things they want, about how they should play, about stories they read or saw on TV, about other kids, about what they'll become when they grow up.

This is one of those rare stories set right on the cusp of knowledge, among girls and boys who are looking at each other and thinking about each other without knowing why yet. That's not the only thing they don't know yet, of course: there are a thousand pieces of the adult world they don't understand yet. But it's all starting to make sense to them, and they -- especially Huey, our main character, the fictional version of Hernandez -- sense that they almost understand what's coming, and that thrills and frightens them. So there are some kids who are a little older and a little farther along -- like Huey's older brother, Junior; the one to the right on the cover -- getting into fights, looking at girls a little more seriously, getting in trouble for falling grades and not caring that much when they lose their formerly-beloved comic books.

It's a story about kids that's entirely for adults, because it relies on our knowing what these kids are in for, and on our knowledge of our own childhoods, our own times when we were on that same cusp. It's a quiet book, following the rhythms of a kid's life in those long months of school between holidays, in a land where it's always mostly warm. It's about the Marble Season: we all had one. And we didn't realize it until it was over.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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