Character – Character development was pretty good for the two or three main characters. It is accomplished through dialogue and actions of the characters. For example, the reader discovers that the main female character, Chris, is popular and generally wants to be a good person and turns bitter due to her circumstances. In contrast, another main female character, Eliza, is introduced as a free spirit, artsy, slutty girl. She actually is an artist who was just in a bad situation and has a good heart. I found the characters as difficult to distinguish sometimes because of the type of art: very heavy black and white, but by the end of the novel (a hefty 350 pages) I had down who was who simply on sight. But, I seem to be in huge disagreement with critics of the genre who think the artwork is phenomenal. This could be a handicap on my part as this is my first full-fledged black and white graphic novel and I’m simply not used to the medium.
Plot – It is a relatively complex plot, with multiple simultaneous storylines, around a simple collection of themes. Basically there are a number of teens who are falling in and out of love, having sex, doing drugs and running away all while dealing with this “bug” which is an STD that turns you into a mutant (and not the cool X-Men kind either). These teens interact with each other and carry on their own story lines, converging and diverging in various chapters. Dream sequences and acid trip inspired hallucinations help give the reader an inner look at the thoughts and fears of the characters and foreshadow events. There are non-dialogue cues that help the plot along, but they are basically inner monologues for the narrator of that chapter.
Setting – The setting varies through the usual teenage locations: school, home, a hang out (in this case the woods) as well as the local drug dealers house and a campsite in the woods where the infected teens have decided to live. According to the jacket (and character’s hairstyles) it takes place in the 1970’s in Seattle. It’s interesting that it does take place in the seventies, because that is prior to the discovery of the AIDS epidemic even though the parallel is obvious.
Style – “Burn’s art is inhumanly precise, and he makes ordinary scenes as creepy as his nightmare visions of a world where intimacy means a life worse than death.” – Publisher’s Weekly. I’d have to agree that the general feeling of the novel is creepy and disturbing, which coincides with the idea of this very physically apparent STD. There is a lot of very realistic nudity which adds to the surreal aspect of the novel in a way that lays the characters bare both physically and emotionally. This is something that is poignant and couldn’t be appreciated as deeply if this were not a graphic novel. Also, the dialogue and innermonologues are very appropriate to the character’s ages and personalities. Burns has added realism to such an unreal condition by doing so and it sticks with you.
Theme – Love and coming of age mixed in with the choices of being intimate in a time where it could mean contracting a disease that could ostracize you from society all with the heightened risks and sensations of overt drug use. Burns tackled a lot of real problems teens face and sprinkles it with the disturbing (yet actually real) elements of contracting “the bug.”
Viewpoint – It is a first person POV, but the narrator does change throughout the book so you get multiple viewpoints. At first I found this confusing, but once I realized the cues Burns gives at the onset of each chapter as to who’s speaking, I found it gave more insight into the characters.
Overall, I honestly didn’t like it. I think partly because it’s simply not the type of story I enjoy reading. It’s very modern and very experimental. Burns is hailed as one of the, if not the, greatest Graphic Novelists of the time so I feel like I’ve missed something by not fully appreciating it. But, not everyone likes Shakespeare or the Bronte sisters…