Review of “Blankets,” written and illustrated by Craig Thompson

This autobiography in graphic form is a memorable book in some ways, but it is so overwhelmingly sad I can’t claim that reading it brought me any joy.

Craig grew up in poverty in rural Wisconsin with an evangelical mother and an emotionally abusive father, a school environment full of bullies, a sexually abusive babysitter, and teachers in religious school who berated his creativity as a distraction from worshipping God.

At church camp, he meets a girl, Raina, who seems like a soul mate. During the school year they bond further through phone calls and letters, and finally arrange for Craig to spend two weeks at her house in Michigan.

Long distance love turns into a doomed proposition however, and Craig is left once again alone to deal with the demons of his past.

Evaluation: After reading this graphic novel, I was utterly despondent. The drawings are often lovely, and evocative of emotional states, but Craig’s story is pretty tragic. So how do I rate it? It’s a memoir of a horrible abusive childhood with no great improvement later in life. It left me depressed. I guess I prefer books that leave me feeling happy (for whatever reason) after I have read them. This is not to say I can’t read sad books, but there must be something else – a superb musicality of language, perhaps, or a plethora of philosophical insights, that compensates.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Top Shelf Productions, 2003

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19 Responses to Review of “Blankets,” written and illustrated by Craig Thompson

  1. Sandy says:

    Just kill me now???? Oh no! We don’t want to kill you! Like you, I’ve heard about this GN over and over again, and I have it on my list of ones to read when I get to that challenge. I guess if I end up finding it at our library, I will have to bear in mind that I need to be in a special mood to read it! (I also have Stitches on my list, as well as Maus I and II. I may need an anti-depressant when I’m done!)

  2. Amanda says:

    I didn’t see him as having this majorly abusive childhood. He had bad things happen to him, yes, but there was hope and happiness in his childhood as well as his later life, too. The book left me hopeful instead of depressed.

  3. Molly says:

    I have tried reading a few graphic novels in the past, but have come to realize that most of them overwhelm my senses — too much information on the page.

    The one exception for me, so far, is French Milk, and I truly enjoyed that reading experience.

    The pages of Blankets remind me of French Milk – the drawings are beautiful, black and white, and the writing concise. While the subject matter seems a bit depressing, I do believe this is a graphic novel that I would like to try to read.

    Thank you for your honest review!

  4. Aarti says:

    Wow, I didn’t find Craig’s life tragic at all! I thought he did a good job of not making his life seem tragic, even though it was oppressive. So interesting how people read books differently. I wonder why/how that happens. I suppose it depends on what you bring to it (mood, experience, etc). I’m glad you tried this one, even if you didn’t like it.

  5. Julie P. says:

    I think I’m with you. If the book is that sad, I probably don’t want to pick it up. I don’t mind sad books, but I want to feel some hope.

  6. Marie says:

    I still want to read this one- a lot- and I appreciate your point of view. it’s definitely been highly-lauded so I’m sure it will be worthwhile. thanks for your great review!

  7. I might have to give this one a try. I don’t really read graphic novels, but what you showed here is really beautiful. To be honest, I’m shocked that spending two weeks in Michigan (a.k.a. heaven) didn’t cure all of his ails. LOL! 🙂

    I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. Thanks so much for sending the Game On goodies. I loved it so much. I’m working on my gift for the HoHos this weekend while we’re buried in snow.

  8. softdrink says:

    This doesn’t sound much like my cuppa tea…like you, I want a little glimmer of hope. Besides, right now I seem to be reading books about mental illness, and that’s enough intensity for me.

  9. I should say in response to these comments that the author himself did not seem to be writing with anger or bitterness. But I, seeing all these horrible things happen to him and his little brother, was just devasted! So perhaps some readers took their cue from the author and some responded based on their own evaluation of the situation, and that may explain the dichotomous reactions among readers…

  10. Ceri says:

    This is on my wishlist. I’ve read so many reviews about it in the last couple of days. This has to be read!

  11. Jenny says:

    I’m interested you found it overwhelmingly sad. I thought Thompson did an amazing job of finding beauty in his childhood and adolescence in spite of a lot of difficult things. Like when he described the game that he and his brother had of playing ship on their bed; or watching Raina sleep.

    Sorry it wasn’t better for you!

  12. bermudaonion says:

    I’ve read all those raves too, so I still want to give this a try. I’ve lowered my expectations a little bit now, though.

  13. Staci says:

    I totally loved this one but can understand why this one left you feeling sad. Have you read Maus I and II??? Outstanding graphic novels!

  14. Valerie says:

    I read this one about 4 or 5 years ago (borrowed from the library), and while I liked it, wasn’t compelled to go out and buy my own copy.

    It’s interesting that now, all of a sudden it seems, it has been making its way around the blogosphere. Why? Has it been re-released in a special edition, or is a movie being made of it now?

    It makes me curious to re-read it to see if I’d “interpret” it differently this time around.

  15. Lisa says:

    This definitely doesn’t sound like something I could read. It’s just so hard to read about any kind of a childhood like this but if you at least get to see that something better follows it makes it possible to handle.

  16. Belle says:

    I don’t enjoy sad books much – I’m definitely on the uplift end of the spectrum. So on the one hand, this does sound like a great memoir in graphic novel form (and I think it takes such talent to deliver that kind of intensity in graphic novel format), on the other hand, it probably isn’t my cup of tea.

  17. Jenners says:

    Everyone shows that same picture! I don’t know if I need to be depressed like this … especially so early in my graphic novel experience.

  18. stacybuckeye says:

    This sounds just a little too sad for me. I like the illustrations, but if it’s only going to depress me, no thanks!

  19. Pingback: Blankets by Craig Thompson « Page247

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