Barbara Thorson, a girl battling monsters both real and imagined, kicks butt, takes names, and faces her greatest fear in this bittersweet, coming-of-age story called “Best Indy Book of 2008” by IGN. Collects “I Kill Giants “#1-7.
Barbara is a character that I continuously had to remind myself to not judge too harshly. I figured there had to be an explanation. And there is…I’m just not sure it’s enough. She’s not nice, she’s abusive and mean, and there’s nothing in these pages that excuses that behavior – though many people make excuses for her behavior. However, there are reasons for her actions, too. It doesn’t make them right, but she’s an 11 (or so) year old child and even adults don’t always react in the best possible way to difficult circumstances.
The author took an interesting angle of not allowing us to know what exactly is going on with Barbara, and not letting us find out until nearly the very end. I went into this book expecting a good fantasy, slaying, giant-killing story. And that’s what I got, but on a different level. We, each of us, have giants to slay, things to overcome, and I think children have some of the most difficult ones as they learn how to navigate all the different, and sometimes painful, realities of life.
So, while I absolutely detested some – or a lot – of the things that Barbara did, it’s hard to judge her. Because I understand, too. She takes her pain and anger out on those around her, not always justly, not fairly, but it’s an emotional reaction that she can’t quite control yet.
If I could have wished for one thing, it would have been her getting called on the behavior a bit more. The story dealt with getting her to deal with the underlying issue, and that’s definitely needed, but I think that if we don’t check ourselves when we’re in pain and angry, care and empathy can get away from us – and it’s a good lesson for kids that might be reading this to learn.
As I tell my son, nothing excuses violence – and believe me, it’s a fine line to walk teaching no violence and the right to defend yourself. That’s something I would have appreciated seeing reinforced here. When I started this, in the first dozen or so pages, I was going to pass it on to my daughters’ to read. Now, I think I’m going to pass. Because no matter how much I can understand Barbara’s pain, I can’t excuse her violent responses to non-violent circumstances, or hurtful language – especially in a time when such things are so prevalent as it is.
There were a couple of things – beyond the violence that I mentioned above – that really bothered me here: 1) the comment from Barbara to her PE teacher (calling the teacher a “bull dyke”), this book would have been much more highly rated. But that’s a line I wasn’t comfortable with, especially when it was never, ever addressed or recriminated. Honestly, the more I think about it, the madder I get; 2) “fat girl bully”; 3) “I’m not like other girls, other girls are stupid”; 4) the boy/girl interests divide – can we just have a book that shows it’s okay to like whatever one wants to like and not disparage others for liking other things? Ugh.
The more I write my review, the more I dislike what I’ve read. And that’s just the story. I also didn’t find the art particularly engaging – most of the time I had a hard time figuring out what was going on. I think that’s a stylistic choice to fit with the fantasy/reality divide that we’re straddling, but it didn’t work for me.