Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #330: Escape From "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross

Melissa Gross didn't grow up easy: she was a smart, opinionated, willful kid with an unbreakable spirit and a burning desire to know the reasons behind everything. Luckily, she seems to have had the kind of parents who could handle her -- slightly indulgent, slightly distant, willing to let her do more or less what she wanted and not burden her with too many expectations. But other kids were crueler, as they always are, and she didn't mesh well with other authority figures at school and temple and camp.

Of course, Melissa Gross isn't real: she's the main character of Escape from "Special". Or maybe she is: author Miss Lasko-Gross's real name is Melissa Anne Lasko Gross, and this graphic novel is generally described as semi-autobiographical. Or maybe the truth is somewhere in between, as Lasko-Gross signposts in the first few pages of this book: this is a story about growing up and about memory, about the things you can remember from childhood and how they turned you into the person you are. Melissa Gross isn't quite Miss Lasko-Gross, but the depicted girl is a version of the adult creator -- how she remembers herself, how she wishes she was, how she thinks she probably was, how things might have, how it makes a better story than the more complicated and tedious reality.

Escape From "Special" was Lasko-Gross's first book, published in 2006. Three years later, she continued the story with A Mess of Everything, which continued young Melissa's life through even more turbulent high school years. But this book has turbulence enough -- Melissa was a ball of undirected tension and energy, reflexively pushing against all limits and constraints just because they were there. Lasko-Gross shows us that energy by telling the story of nearly ten years of life through dozens of short stories, some only a page long, each a vignette or moment in young Melissa's life. Lasko-Gross tells these stories in a palette of greys -- perhaps ironically, since Melissa was so adamant about wanting to know exactly how things were and had little tolerance for ambiguity and other people's opinions -- with the young Melissa raging and stalking through the middle of all of them.

Melissa must have been a tough kid to know or like; even assuming that Lasko-Gross is exaggerating a bit for dramatic effect, she was a loudmouthed, relentlessly contrarian grade-schooler with unpopular habits and ideas and plans. But we were all that kid, at least in our own heads, and Lasko-Gross is excellent at showing all of the ways that '80s culture rubbed this one girl raw, and how she struck back at it. Melissa Gross got herself into the "special" school of the title, and then got herself out of it, and the story of how she did that -- and what happened to this one very square peg along the way -- is engrossing and thrilling.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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