Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #239: Blue by Pat Grant

We rarely like those new people at first -- they look funny, their food smells, and they probably jabber away using words we don't recognize. And they're here, in our place, instead of wherever it was they came from -- and that's, for some of us, the worst thing.

Australian Pat Grant knows that feeling: he grew up a working-class surf-bum kid out in the middle of nowhere, linked to the next bit of nowhere by a train line. And, a few years back, he turned some pieces of his own teen years, a little bit of the fantastic, and enough fiction to make it all cohere into the graphic novel Blue.

(You can read Blue for free on his website right now, if you want. You could also buy the book version from that first link. As always in life, you have choices.)

Christian is a teen in the Aussie town of Bolton: it's close enough to Sydney that urbanites can visit, but far enough out to be its own little place, settled and closed-in like small towns everywhere. Christian is the kind of mildly disruptive hell-raiser that Grant himself was: he'd prefer to surf than to go to school, and he's rude and unthinking and rough-edged like so many teenagers are. His best friends are Verne and Muck; they have ditching and surfing and egging each other on in common.

Blue is the story of those three teens and one day: the day they ditched school because the waves were high and because the grapevine said there was a dead body out on the train line, only half-cleaned up. (And teens, especially restless, unhappy teens, love both of those things: love poking at the rough and painful spots repeatedly to prove they can and to show how strong they are.) So the three of them set off to do two things: to surf the big waves, and to see the dead body.

It's also the story of Bolton before "those people" started showing up -- Grant draws them as blue bulbous things, with stripey tentacles coming out of large holes in a gourd-shaped body, somewhere in between childrens-book goofball and Lovecraftian creepy -- since the day of the dead body was the first time Christian ever saw any of the blue folks. Christian and his friends don't like the blue people, of course -- even modern day Christian, who is telling the story in flashback, is casually racist and cruel about them -- but that's only to be expected for people like them in a town like Bolton.

Blue shows rather than tells: it's entirely told by Christian, and is inside his mindset the whole time. Grant's cartooning is lovely and expressive, with a strong, rounded line and muppety, rubber-hose characters. It's a serious book that never tells you it's serious, that never descends to lecturing or the author's thumb on the scales. It will definitely hit harder if you're Australian, or from somewhere else with a recent influx of "those people," but it's an age-old, deeply human story that we all recognize. I recommend it highly.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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