TRIGGER WARNINGS in this book include, but not limited to: assault, drinking/drug use, language, death, environmental issues.
The actual ducks of Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands do not show up until almost the end of the book, but are really only one part of a very large, complex and messy story. The “culture” of the oil camps is the setting for not just the day-to-day life of author/illustrator Kate Beaton, but also the coming-of-age of Kate’s understanding of how “things work” or should not work. This is a coming-of-age story where Kate realizes that even if her art is black and white, the world is not. This is a love story about the several years of Beaton’s life that are covered in muck, dirt, snow, cold, bugs and pain; but also how there were some really special people and times, too.
I won’t dwell on the story of the book, as that tells this graphic novel so you do not have to read it. The biggest part is this: do not take your preconceived notions with you and come at things blank. This is not a “pro oil fields” or even an “anti oil fields” story; it is a story of one woman and her experiences and understandings. It is about how she came out of it becoming a different person for better or worse. It is about how Beaton realizes some people go out of their way to be kind, others to be cruel, and others are in between.
I was not sure I was going to like Ducks. It has gotten praise and awards (but as a snob who says “awards do not mean a great book” this meant nothing to me). On top of it all, the artwork was not really grabbing me. A coworker had read and liked it, and though I respect their opinion of books and will use them for other customers, they and I do not always agree on what defines a good book. After reading, I realize it is a well-done book and I give this book a 4.5 as it is a thoughtful piece, a strong piece of literature that should be read, but the art never was “loved” but appreciated. These illustrations are clever, interesting and really can set the tone. I was not always loving them, or feeling I was “in the book” as I would have to backtrack and figure out who was who.
This is worth the time it takes to read. It might seem easy but don’t be fooled. There is nothing easy about this book at all.