Blankets Book Review

Content warning: Sexual abuse, nudity, and religion are discussed in this review.

Graphic novels have always been contested in the literary world. Some don’t see them as real books because they have plenty of pictures in them. At the same time, they can help struggling readers to build their confidence and understand what’s going on in the story. One such graphic novel that has the ability to aid people in enhancing their reading skills is Blankets – a memoir by Craig Thompson. Its illustrations beautifully demonstrate the feelings of a teenager growing up in a religious family in rural Wisconsin.

Set in a Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the coming-of-age story of Craig – a teenaged boy who has trouble expressing himself creatively because of his strictly fundamentalist Christian family and community. At a winter church camp, he falls in love with a girl named Raina. They reveal their struggles with their faith and dreams of escape. However, their personal demons resurface, and the relationship falls apart. It’s a portrait of adolescent yearning, first love, a crisis of faith, and the process to move beyond all that.

Let’s get one aspect out of the way now: it’s nearly 600 pages. It seems silly now, but at first, I thought it would take me a while to read it because of that amount. That was not the case. I was able to complete it in a week since it was *surprise a graphic novel. Along with that, the story was comprehensible enough that I didn’t have to go back and reread certain passages. Ok, I lied. I only went back to some pages just to look at the illustrations.

The themes of snow and blankets are present throughout the graphic novel. The former is shown as something that could be isolating as well as fantastical. Craig feels alone for a lot of time growing up, but when he’s with Raina, he’s able to escape reality by running around in the snow and making snow angels. In one part, Craig and Raina stay out in the wintry forest near her house until late at night because they wanted more time to themselves. Blankets in this story represent comfort and security – things that Craig didn’t always have. When he was younger, he and his little brother Phil slept in the same bed, and they would constantly fight about the cover, especially during the colder seasons. Later, when Craig is with Raina, she gives him a blanket she made herself using various quilt patterns. They end up sleeping with each other underneath that quilt. However, once the relationship is over, Craig burns all of the papers and drawings that remind him of Raina, yet he realizes that he could never destroy that blanket. I’m not going to lie. I literally shouted, “Nooooooooooooooooo” right before Craig sets various things on fire because I thought he was going to smolder the quilt. Luckily, he didn’t.

The black-and-white (and occasionally blue) drawings beautifully show the author’s feelings towards his body, his love for Raina, and religion. He has issues with his body because both he and Phil were sexually abused by their babysitter. He never wanted to grow into an adult body because of how grotesque it looked to him. There’s even a page of a young and naked Craig with some angels that look like they are about to drop him in the hellish world of a grown man’s body.

With his love for Raina, his emotions are more complicated. When they first meet, Craig is smitten by her because of how beautiful and kind she is. There are several panels in which he depicts her as a goddess to show how much she means to him. Granted, there’s a valid argument about how Raina doesn’t have much of a personality. At the same time, she has her own feelings like being stressed by taking care of her special needs siblings and coping with her parents’ divorce, and to her, Craig is an escape and provides security much like she is to him. Also, people have their own versions of the stories they tell themselves. This is even explored briefly between Craig and Phil at the very end of the novel. Back to Craig, and Raina, their love and need for each other like Linus needing his blanket made me root for them. Sadly, their relationship ended after Craig spent two weeks with Raina in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Since Craig grew up in a strict fundamentalist Christian community, he is expected to do things for God and not sin. While he is spiritual and reads the Bible, he constantly grapples with Christianity’s contradictory elements. Towards the end of the book, when Craig is in college, he looks through the Book of Ecclesiastes, and he discovers that certain passages were added to level out that section’s pessimistic tone. The darker elements of that biblical book are portrayed with a naked malnourished man wandering through a creepy forest and looking scared. This contrasts the more optimistic parts, which are shown as the three little pigs building a house and enjoying their rewards. This all culminates into Craig feeling like he’s wandering through said forest and the big bad wolf blowing the house down once he realizes that the word of God has been manipulated by several generations of writers. The way Thompson depicts these with starkly different animation styles perfectly conveys the feelings Craig has while questioning the Bible.

To summarize, Blankets by Craig Thompson is a great graphic novel memoir that perfectly conveys what it was like growing up in an overzealous religious community in rural Wisconsin. It’s an easy read because the story is comprehensible, and the illustrations are inventive and perfectly convey the mindset of a teenager struggling to express emotions creatively. I would recommend this to those who like graphic novels and Bildungsroman (coming-of-age) stories, specifically involving outcasts, growing up in a religious family and questioning religion; are Midwesterners; and are older high schoolers and up given some of the subject matter. Never count out a graphic novel because they are great gateways into reading.

Before I go, I want to let you all know that I posted the latest episode of the Adapt Me Podcast. It discusses how guest John Marszalkowski and I would adapt Blankets as a miniseries, so give a listen at this link!

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Published by emilymalek

I work at a public library southeast Michigan, and I facilitate two book clubs there. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, play trivia and crossword puzzles, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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