I thought this was going to be the worse book I would read this year. It was certainly angling for the one of the worse books I have read in the last few years. But Paul Has a Summer Job is far from the worse book I have ever read. Michel Rabagliati did not write something I would ever consider a favorite, but not the worse, book.
When I say Helge Dascher translated an odd graphic novel that might be an exaggeration. Yet, there is a lot of oddness going on. Perhaps some of it is because it is set in Canada and therefore some terms, spellings, actors/musicians/performers/etc. mentioned and items (the look and type of beer they drink) are not necessarily recognized by American readers at first. Yet, the characters themselves were never a 100% likable or even a character you could empathize with. There are a number of stereotypes: one is a “get your own damn sandwich” feminist; one “I don’t want to be your friend even though we have to pair up because you took my friends place and therefore, I do not like you” female. There is the “hip priest in training” and a lot of “hippy males.” It is the 1970’s and that does not change because of the country.
There is something about the beginning that turns you off to Paul from the start and never completely get over. There are obvious things not to like about Paul, but in the long run they might be superficial reasons: he quits school as he is convinced he is being targeted (rightly or wrongly as we only see the interaction between him and the administration through his eyes), he teases his mothers dog, he seems lazy, entitled and when things are rough at his “real world” job and thinks he will get an easy summer by helping a buddy at a summer camp for disadvantaged kids, he quits again. He is an artist and musician (though the art aspect of his life disappears though he was passionate about it). His parents seem well meaning, but overly indulgent. Then there is the WTF IS GOING ON? reason to dislike Paul: He graphically imagines the torture to who I interrupted as his former principal and a Dean of Students. Not only do they show the characters tied up, they show a few things Paul wants to do (the violence) all the while they are nude. Nudity is throughout in the first half of the book in oddly obvious but also subtle ways.
I honestly am not sure why I did not stop there. Yet, I am that odd creature who wants to know why things are going on. Is this the whole book? Will he be some kind of “Camp Horror Movie Monster?” Will there be redemption? Once he gets to the camp, he learns he must share his in-the-middle-of-no-place tent with critters. He must dig latrines. He must make his own damn sandwich. He must deal with the fact he has never had to do an honest day labor in his life. He must deal with the hot-girl/his camp-counselor-buddy, Annie, who has a chip on her shoulder. He must deal with kids aged 8/9 to 15 over the several weeks of summer. He learns things about these kids (the smartass teen boys; the terror pre-teen boys; the pre-teen girls and especially Marie who is a blind girl with a dark sense of humor and some serious pluck). When the final camper goes home this should be the end of the book. However, we have a flash forward of about 20 years with not only a round up (who married who, divorced, etc.) but a return to the camp in an unusual manner. It is a bit cliched but also not horrible.
This is for at least ages 14 to adult. Kids might have seen worse violence, nudity and drinking or heard/say worse language, but the final message is not for the younger reader. Individuals will take away from it by what their biases are. That will include the artwork. I did not even start to mention the awkward artwork, sometimes used it seems to be for shock value only. It is at best, sketchy. The cover tells you everything you really need to know about the style. It is entirely black and white. There are details but minimal and sometimes are to make out as you try to concentrate on small text that is sometimes crowded into the panel.
What was the redemption to all of this is that there does seem that Paul can be redeemed (somewhat). Yet, that is a small part in the end the big redemption is the fact this is an “experience book.” I have an experience; you will have an experience, and neither will be the same. There are several reasons to read a book: you have to for class or work; you want to enjoy a it; and then there are the books that show you what is out there, maybe you learn something from them, no matter how painful the journey, but you always come away with something. Be it just thinking why a bad book is out there, why didn’t you read it sooner, or something else that only you know. This was a book I experienced and am grateful for the chance.