CBR11 Bingo Square: Banned Books
I remember reading Blankets a number of years ago, and if I recall correctly, I liked certain aspects but didn’t love it. But having a copy on my shelves, I decided to re-visit it for my Banned Books square, after learning that both this novel and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home were challenged and subsequently removed from the public library in Marshall, Missouri, after complaints that the novels were “pornographic” and might be read by children. This began a series of discussions about censorship, and the institution of new materials selection policies to the library board, and the novels were returned to the shelves after less than a year being removed.
Blankets is an autobiographical story of Craig Thompson’s childhood and adolescence, dealing largely with his personal struggles with faith in an Evangelical Christian family, and searching for meaning and purpose therein. It also centers greatly on Craig’s understanding of love and relationships, in particular as he finds himself falling into romantic love for the first time. Though the story itself largely takes place during Craig’s adolescence, there are flashbacks throughout his past, beginning as a child and focusing on both the guilt and heavy weight of Church teachings, as well as his relationship with his brother Phil, and the guilt of them both being sexually abused by a babysitter at a young age. From there we also see Craig as a teen, meeting a girl named Raina at Church camp, and forming a relationship with her that involves going to stay with and meet her family: their views on religion and faith differ, and we see how this may be influenced by Raina’s feelings of responsibility in her broken family, and in taking care of her adopted siblings with developmental disabilities, as well as her niece. Finally, as this relationship runs its course, Craig has to make decisions about what he wants to do with his life, whether that be with Church involvement or as an artist, reconciling his faith with his experiences and what he really needs in the end.
This book is described as Thompson’s way of coming out to his parents as not being a Christian anymore. It also clearly depicts deep scars and struggles in his life: it is personal, and flowing and beautiful. The art, in particular, I find very visually appealing, dreamy, yet relatable and real. There is a quietness to this book, and it is full of heart and intimacy.
These aspects are all incredibly strong in this novel, yet I still don’t find myself loving it for a couple of reasons. The first is that the ending seems a little abrupt after the somewhat slow burn of the rest with its many sub-characters and plots, suddenly distilled down and tied off. But more than that, Thompson’s depiction of Raina just strikes me as a bit too muse-like. While it does give weight to Raina’s struggles in her own decisions and trajectory, by nature this story centers on Thompson, and in a way her character ends up feeling like a bit of a romanticized manic-pixie-dream-girl: broken but beautiful and perfect and instantly yours, but also never quite connected how you want her to be. I’m finding it hard to explain but the feeling is that we are kept at an arms’ length from Raina in order to preserve a perfect, fragile image of this young woman.
Ultimately, there are a lot of strengths in Blankets, and I do absolutely love the artwork inside. It is clearly a personal, introspective, and touching novel, so if you are into that kind of memoir-esque story based on real experiences, I would definitely recommend it.