Author: Craig Thompson
Year: 2004
Genre: Autobiographical

Everything seems bigger and more important to a teenager. A bad grade feels like a personal insult, and one bad day can make them think their life is over. As for the things that by any measure carry serious weight - consider romance, or family, or religious faith - adolescents often experience them with an intensity that makes adult life seem a pale imitation. In Blankets, Craig Thompson's art and storytelling somehow transport you back to that phase of life. He reminds us of the 17-year-old's persistent emotional rawness caused by the mere fact of living, the immediacy of the world seen through adolescent eyes.

The story focuses primarily on young Craig's first serious romance, during his senior year of high school. His relationship with Raina begins as a bible-camp flirtation, but when he stays for two weeks at her house, the time they spend together develops an almost religious importance. They offer each other an escape from the constant frustrations of teenage life: school responsibilities, lack of privacy, his family's rigid fundamentalism, her parents' impending divorce. The two are the "blankets" of the title (represented by a quilt that Raina makes for Craig, as well as the constant snowfall of the Midwestern winter); they shelter each other from the harshness of life that teenagers are often so ill-equipped to face alone.

During their two-week idyll, Raina leans on Craig and Craig literally idolizes Raina, as his love for her forces him to question his Christian faith. At first, he worries over literal-minded questions of lust and temptation, but eventually he finds a more profound spirituality, recognizing immanence in her earthly beauty. This brush with the divine is symbolized in the artwork, where a motif of radiance takes on the forms of a snowflake, a pattern in the quilt's fabric, and a halo for the deified Raina.

Their love is a small and fragile thing. After Craig returns home, their connection is quickly broken by long distance and everyday responsibilities. The next ten years of his life are told in a space of some five pages, showing that he has gotten over Raina without allowing the reader to move on as well. On the contrary, we look back with a deep nostalgia for his adolescent romance, and forward to her influence on the adult he will become: an artist, a thinking Christian with more questions than fundamentalism, a man who forms a fully adult relationship with his younger brother.

Perhaps comics, as a combination of images and words, is uniquely able to convey the unmediated emotion of adolescence, the sense of unbearable significance. Thompson makes a strong case: the experience of reading Blankets is like being surrounded by ghosts of your own teenage years. I certainly wouldn't want to return there, but I feel I have a different appreciation of it now.

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