Across the Page: Summer Reads

 
 

Ann’s Irish-American background has not necessarily
prepared her for the racial tensions ignited during the desegregation of her
high school — "the White parents lining Day Boulevard, throwing rocks at
the buses."

Ann is a complex character and the perfect lens from
which to view this important and highly charged era. Though her face has
"the map of Ireland" all over, her sexuality gives her insight into
what it feels like to be the "other" or "different" within
a community.

As Ann joins the opposite side of the picketing line,
her crush on Mademoiselle Eugénie and classmate Rochelle eventually leads her
to leave the "peninsula" of South Boston. On her journey, Ann meets
up with black militants and discovers more about herself than she expected — or
perhaps even cared to learn.

Grant brilliantly captures Ann’s sense of dislocation,
both emotional and geographic. South Boston may not be perfect, but Ann knows
her way around. She knows the rules and how to play the game. The book depicts
a very specific moment in American history, but the story stays focused on Ann,
and one of its strengths is that Grant allows her to be a flawed and honest
narrator.

Grant’s first novel, The Passion of Alice (1996), was the story of a young woman
struggling with anorexia. Though the books are very different, both feature
strong young women who are troubled, smart and all too real. Map of Ireland is both an engaging and
heartening read.

Awkward and Definition, Potential by Ariel Schrag
(Touchstone/Simon & Schuster)

While most of us simply waxed poetic in the private
pages of our diaries, Ariel Schrag actually produced something of her
adolescent angst: three witty and insightful graphic novels documenting her first
three years at Berkeley High School in Berkeley,
Calif.

Originally published by Slave Labor Graphics, the
books were recently re-released by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, which
combined the first two years, Awkward
and Definition, into one book.
Schrag, who wrote for Seasons 3 and 4 of The
L Word
, also wrote the screen adaptation for Potential, which is currently being made into a movie by Killer
Films and will be directed by Rose Troche.

The shiny new covers of the Touchstone editions do
not take anything away from Schrag’s edgy storytelling. Awkward introduces the very young Schrag as she stumbles through
her first year of high school. The drawings are rudimentary, which is actually
part of the charm, and the title could not be more appropriate or universal.

Definition
picks up where Awkward leaves off. Now that Schrag is a bit more grounded in
school and herself, she begins to consider that abstract concept of identity.
She is obsessed with defining people, including herself, and this is the year
she comes out as bisexual.

The bubble — an actual illustrated bubble— where
Schrag kisses her crush is titled "Definition Perfection." The
drawing is incredibly precise and realistic, as though the world is now in
focus, and Schrag writes in one of her characteristic musings: "It was as
if everything about kissing made sense and all those other awful bland boring
kisses I’d had vanished away with unimportance and insignificance."

Potential,
which was nominated for an Eisner Award, is next in the series, and it is easy
to see why this book was picked to be made into a film. The year begins with a
revelation when Schrag finally admits that she’s not bisexual: "Well, it’s
not like being bi was some prize to hold onto! So with a final fling — reality
reared forth … DYKEDOM HERE I COME! No pun intended!"

The revelations don’t stop there. In Potential, Schrag’s life becomes more
complicated, and with pen in hand she documents every turn: falling in and out
of love; her deliciously torturous relationship with the senior Sally Jults;
losing her virginity to a boy ("I will not be a 17-year-old virgin");
dealing with her bickering parents.

The series is an absolutely addictive read. The
fourth installment of her senior year, Likewise,
is due out in 2009. Start reading now.

 

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