Angst: a love story
My original plan for this evening was to shower and then spend three hours pondering the truth of how we never know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. But since my hot water has yet to return since running off with its druggie boyfriend my night is suddenly free for reading and reflection. Lucky you.
I recently read a graphic novel about another gal who ran away with her druggie boyfriend, and the fact that it ended well leaves me feeling hopeful. Ivy is Sarah Olesyk’s first full-length graphic novel chock-full of angst, cemeteries, and bad decisions. Published by Oni Press in January of this year, Ivy, was originally a five-part series, recently completed, collected and bound. Oleksyk’s style is beautiful and arresting, yet simple. The shading and detail in these black-and-white panels lend the drawings an amazing warmth and depth.
Ivy follows its seventeen-year-old namesake as she navigates the trenches of art and algebra, friendships and falling-outs, love and disillusion, and the college application process. Ivy struggles to keep her explosive temper in check, which is easily ignited by crotchety teachers, her absent yet feels-her-opinion-is-law mother, and all manner of life’s minor tragedies.
Ivy longs to go to art school and pursue her talent for painting, something her mother, who has taken it upon herself to fill out business school applications in Ivy’s name, is completely against. While on a school trip to Boston (from Maine) to explore art schools, Ivy meets a young criminal (as all young men are, to quote my stepfather) named Josh. They become infatuated instantly, more or less promising having each other at hello and promising to exchange letters.
While Josh’s letters are immediately disturbing (you get me, we belong together, blah blah), Ivy, in the way of all lovesick young women, eats. it. up. This book is a good reminder that the people we like quickly are often not as amazing as we imagine them to be. When Ivy flees her home in Maine after an altercation with her mother, she and Josh join forces and hit the road. The beginning plays out like every young fantasy I ever had running away for love, needing no one and living off the land. Which is really only practical if you’re Pocahontas. (I’m not.)
Even at its most cheesy and angst-saturated, this novel rings true. Ivy’s a modern-day heroine, headstrong if a little directionless. Oleksyk does an excellent job of capturing the complete stupidity and recklessness of teenage love. Even as Ivy berates everyone in her path, punches lockers, alienates her friends, buys drugs, and gets suspended, I found myself pulling for her happiness.
Oleksyk’s secret weapon in these pages is place. Ivy repeatedly visits an old overpass in the local cemetery, which becomes a character in its own way. Ivy repeatedly retreats to the overpass to seek solace, savor triumph and lick her wounds. I also really enjoyed seeing Ivy’s art on Oleksyk’s pages a mingling of stark portraits and crude caricatures.
Let’s face it, most teenagers are obnoxious jerks. I definitely was and Ivy is too. And that’s what I I love about her.
While perhaps not about to be lauded as a groundbreaking original tale, Ivy hints at the promise of what’s to come from the extremely talented Oleksyk. It’s definitely worth a read, even if only to cite later as you pretentiously inform others that you read her “early work” before she was “mainstream.” There’s no serious-reader buzzkill worse than liking an artist whose work is widely enjoyed. So get in early while the getting’s obscure.