I don’t know how to describe the way I feel about Blankets other than, when I closed its covers, it made me cry. Not because the ending was sad, because it wasn’t, it was beautiful and hopeful, but because I couldn’t believe what I had just experienced and I couldn’t believe that it was over. For the first 200 pages of Blankets, I read slowly, immersing myself in every single drawing, every line, every word. For the last 350 pages I was consumed by the story. I have no recollection of anything happening outside of its pages. I was wholly a part of Craig’s world and nothing could have drawn me out of it. Did hours pass? Possibly. I honestly couldn’t tell you. All I can tell you is that I have never been moved by graphic novel like this and there are only a few traditional novels that have made me feel the same way.
Craig Thompson says that Blankets came from the urge to describe what it is like to sleep in the same bed as someone for the first time. There is no sentence that sums up Blankets better than that, but there is so much more depth to it than that. Craig, the son of very religious parents, weaves two stories that have a blanket at their center: sharing a bed with his younger brother when they were children and falling in love for the first time with Raina, a girl he met at a Christian camp.. This is a book about passions (religious, sexual, familial, romantic) and how they are at once complementary and contradictory. They push and pull against one another as much as they make each other possible. When one passion cannot be reconciled with another, how we deal with the force of that disappointment eventually defines who we are.
Blankets made me really think about my own religious journey. Religion is a huge part of this graphic novel and I know that that can turn some people away. At the center of the story is Craig’s questioning of his faith, that until his young adulthood was a blind faith. It’s honest, but it’s still reverent. At the center of this novel is not losing one’s faith, but being able to ask questions about it. About taking a personal journey to discover your relationship with faith, no matter what that faith or the result of that discovery may be. I know that I appreciate this part of the novel because the way Craig feels about things really mirrors my own life, but I don’t think it should be a deterrent for anyone reading this novel. It is about so much more than just religion; it’s one coming of age story in which everyone can find pieces of themselves.
Often after finishing a novel I say, “Wow, that book made me want to go back to the front page and read it again.” Well, for the first time, I actually did it. I read Blankets twice in one night and found that there were so many small things and connections that I missed after my first reading. For example, Raina and Craig begin their relationship as pen pals and at one point we see Craig draw a picture for Raina. Later, when he finally visits her house, that picture is on Raina’s wall. It’s details like that that truly make a graphic novel a masterpiece. But that is not the only thing that makes Blankets perfect. It’s Thompson’s excellent use of negative space, the recurring themes and images, like blankets and snow (blankets of snow!!), typography and so much more.
Blankets will make you ache. It will make you pine for the particular way first love consumes you. It will bring you back to that particular loneliness that is high school, in all that you are forever surrounded by people. It will remind you of the fits of fanaticism that being a child and a teenager allow. Even if your life is completely different from Craig’s, I challenge you not to find snippets of your own family here in both Craig and Raina’s. I challenge you to read Blankets and not be moved. Please, please read this autobiographical comic: it doesn’t get any better than this.