Saturday, December 20, 2008

Is It Magical Realism? Is It A Graphic Novel?

I have been a bad Cybilista, not keeping up with graphic novel posts the way I'd planned to. So today I am doing penance by discussing The Savage by David Almond, which has been nominated for a Cybil in the YA Graphic Novel category.

The Savage is the story of a boy whose age I'm not sure about, though he seems a little on the young side for a YA to me. Soon after his father dies, he starts writing a story about a savage kid who appears to come to life so that he can deal with a bully who has been tormenting his creator.

Does he really come to life? Did his author commit the acts in the night instead of the savage?

While this story seems a little familiar to me, it is very well done. Child readers may very well find this storyline very intriguing. What's more, the book is relatively short. The draw of the story combined with the unintimidating length of the text could make this book a real draw, particularly for less enthusiastic readers.

I first became acquainted with David Almond's work when I read Skellig while doing a little magical realism study. Just as The Savage involves a child who has experienced the trauma of a parent's death, Skellig involved a child who was experiencing the trauma of a sick younger sibling and a move to a new home.

One day after doing my magical realism reading, I was supposedly doing a bookstore appearance but really just hanging out with the bookseller because she had very few customers and didn't make a single sale the two hours I was there. The bookseller had a background in some kind of therapy. She said that when books involved "magical elements" with a character who had experienced some kind of trauma, said books were not considered examples of magical realism. The magical elements had to exist with no possibilty of them being explained as an emotional response to a traumatic event.

I don't know if she was right, but it was an interesting point.

Anyway, getting back specifically to the book at hand, The Savage is heavily illustrated by Dave McKean, who also illustrated The Graveyard Book. While there are more illustrations than I'd expect to see in a regular novel here and some of the pages could be described as being broken into panels, I really don't see this as a graphic novel. There's way too much text and the illustrations illustrate. I don't think they carry any of the story.

Fuse #8 did a lengthy review of this book earlier this month, complete with many links to other reviews and miscellaneous information.


david elzey said...

I agree, this is no graphic novel, and I would be surprised to see it survive the first round of Cybils judging.

Taken with Almond's other book this year, My Dad's a Birdman, they make an interesting set of meditations on how different families treat the grieving process.

Gail Gauthier said...

It's too bad it was placed in the graphic novel category. I know there are a lot of titles in middle grade and YA, but it still might have had a better chance in one of those.