By Mel Tregonning
I have had this book at home for some time now but I have struggled to write this review. I struggled to find words that would adequately do justice to this book’s beauty. It is one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time. It is a wordless graphic novel for older readers and throws such a punch that I was left breathless. This book hits us with everything it has. Quality, beauty, sadness, hope all woven together with the most stunning illustrations.
Mel Tregonning’s illustrations capture feelings with such honesty that it is at times confronting. A young boy is obviously so overwhelmed by his feelings of inadequacy and isolation that his world begins to fall apart. Indeed, it is the young boy himself who begins, bit by bit to crumble. His growing sense of sadness and loneliness is so raw and real it begins to eat away at him. At times when he is desperately trying to fit in, he fumbles, feeling others laughing at him and starts blushing. Despite the illustrations being black and white, Mel Tregonning captures his embarrassment through clever shading and we can feel his pain acutely.
I so wanted to grab this boy, pull him out of the dark pages and his dark world, hold him close and hug him forever. He situation is so real and sadly all too common. However, there is also hope and the lovely sense of a friendship just starting to bud.
I strongly believe this book is bound for all sorts of awards and deservedly so. It is with such sadness that the illustrator who died in 2014 will not be around to see the impact her beautiful book has had.
Much has been made of the fact that Mel Tregonning took her own life but rather than focus on this I want to point out that the author and illustrator Shaun Tan illustrated the last three illustrations to complete this book. For me, this highlights the fact that at times we all need help and is one of the most powerful messages in this book.
Yes, this book moved me to tears but it is a book and story we need to read. We need to talk about depression, loneliness, sadness and how to deal with these issues. It is not for young readers. I will restrict this book to year six only (10 years up). There is so much to unpack and discuss with this book. For teachers and parents it is a great book to use to begin those awkward conversations that if left unspoken, could become worse. Sometimes, all we need to know is that we are not alone and that others feel the same way we do.
I love this book for so many reasons but mostly for its gutsy honesty and the message that we need to reach out, either for help, or to help.
Teacher notes available here for both primary and secondary schools.