Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #175: All Star by Jesse Lonergan

The world does not treat everyone the same -- we all know that intellectually, but we still react viscerally when we see it happen to us. Sometimes we even react badly when we're the ones getting preferential treatment, though it's much more likely to be the other way around.

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

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