Susceptible‘s black and white illustrations, expressive use of shading, tiny cursive written speech bubbles, and the variety of the size and shapes of its panels all add up to a pensive expedition for the reader as they follow this young person’s journey from birth through to tangible independence.
The story, a first person compilation of vignettes, is based on memories of the author’s childhood growing up in Quebec, Canada. Goglu, as she is called by her mother, is raised by adults who are mainly irresponsible, absent, self-absorbed, and negligent. Her mother and father are separated by a large physical distance, as well as an overwhelming emotional one. Her mother’s boyfriend does almost everything in his power to create dissension and distrust between mother and daughter while the self-destructive mother almost seems reliant on her emotionally fragile daughter. The memoir follows Goglu from her earliest memories until she turns eighteen, a very significant birthday when, as she writes, “I have all my teeth. I can do whatever I want.” This reader believes her and celebrates in the fact that Goglu has escaped all the manipulative people of her childhood and adolescence and will be able to follow her own dreams and aspirations without being held responsible for the adults who were supposedly there for her. This independence is hard won, aided by the young artist’s love of illustration and her inspired use of solitude as she matured among the myriad of distractions caused by drugs, drinking, and family debacles. This depiction of her story is also filled with other mature themes such as eating disorders, abortion, self-harm, and emotional abuse. This is not a light and easy read!
The artwork is detailed and filled with texture and lots of white space. While some panels and pages are text heavy, others are spare and evocative. All, however, demand careful reading and contemplation. The story is harsh, but there is an element of hope in the relating of her experiences, told in the tiny cursive script evoking the reading of a diary, private thoughts that are now open to interpretation and, perhaps, judgement from the reader. This is an extremely personal, retrospective look at a childhood that was fraught with disengaged adults and a young girl trying very hard to be loved, safe, and secure both within and without her family boundaries.
The memoir’s bright red end papers, the equally bright red scarf dominating the mostly softly coloured wrap around cover, and the austere and striking black and white illustrations provide a gratifying package for the eyes. The graphic novel in its entirety is a sweet and sour treat that is highly recommended for sophisticated readers.