Saturday, February 8, 2014

So many FEELINGS about BOYS, you guys.

Book: Heart of Thomas
Author: Moto Hagio
Published: 2012 (Fantagraphics collected English translation)
Pages: 516
Let’s just get this out of the way: if I avoided reading everything that reminds me of my ex-boyfriend, I would have like half a David Foster Wallace essay and a shampoo bottle label left. So when I pick up a manga novel (especially then) that happens to be one he recommended and convinced the American Library Association to put on its 2013 great graphic novels for teens list, know that A. it’s second nature to adjust for my bias by now and B. trust him, he’s a professional. 
That being said, I don’t know if you know yet, guys, but Thomas Werner is dead and he loved Juli but Juli pretended to hate him and those things probably have a whole lot to do with each other. This manga is set in a boys’ boarding school in Germany where everybody gets up in everybody’s business and the older boys rule the younger ones like tea-drinking herders of adorable dramatic puppies. One of the younger students falls to his death off a railroad bridge during the last day of spring break; rumors fly that it was suicide and/or murder for unrequited love. The object of said love, an uptight prefect named Juli, carries a huge amount of guilt about it that’s only increased when a new student comes along and reminds Juli of Thomas Werner in pretty much every way.
If you don’t catch that at first, don’t worry. It will be repeated in endless variation with added strains of astonishment and angst as more secrets come unraveled during the rest of the school year, complete with lots of facial flashbacks that float above characters’ heads in clouds of flowers, which sounds over dramatic – and it is, but in a very accurate depiction of how adolescent grief mixes heavily with sentimentality and helplessness.
One thing that I appreciated on a subtext-y, almost practical sort of level is that all the boys have crushes on each other but also think girls are cute, and no one even hints at mentioning that there’s anything wrong with that. This might be a standard thing in shojo manga; my entire sample size of that genre is this book. And all of it’s very Romantic, with a couple hints of creepy from the older boys and the fact that the new kid might love his mother a little too much.
So the end is resolved sort of as an anti-climax, but that was a nice surprisingly realistic breather after the 400+ pages of drama, and the forward that talked about how the manga managed to get into magazines and then eventually into paperback collections and finally into this English translation was fascinating.
It was a good read for a couple giant chunks over the past week but I can’t say I’m going to jump back in right away. Back to circulation for this one. 
Also, I'm doing this new thing here where I pair up what I read with what homemade baked goods I ate while reading it that week. This time it's manga and oatmeal cookies that came out a little flatter than I wanted (butter seems superior to shortening) but were still both entirely delicious.

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