If you like beautifully written and impactful graphic novels, if you care at all about social issues, and you have the tiniest spec of curiosity about the impacts of Canadian colonialism and its lasting impact through generational wounds, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. Yes, I just went all caps. And yes, I genuinely think that ‘The Outside Circle’ deserves it. It is complicated, powerful, and undeniably insightful in ways that linger long after you have turned the final page.
Title: This Outside Circle
Author: Patti LaBoucane-Benson
Illustrator: Kelly Mellings
Publication Date: May 2, 2015
Genre: Graphic Novel, YA Fiction, Fiction
But let me start with a disclaimer. This graphic novel is not for the faint of heart, and likely not altogether suitable for young children. The social issues touched upon include gang violence, drug use, poverty, incarceration, abuse, and the systematic destruction of families and cultures. It needs to be read, it needs to be discussed, but it is best suited to older teens and adults. And while the subject matter isn’t the lightest, the presentation is such that it is easily approachable by students, scholars, and independent readers alike.
The style and colours in this book made a tremendous impact on me, and I had to read it through several times in order to appreciate the depth of the details and nuance. I enjoyed the ongoing transformation of masks throughout, the tattoo motif, the circle series, and the repetitive use of smoke and fragmentation. I also found the variety of panels and page layouts to be engaging, and I really appreciated the break from tradition western aspects and transitions. The layering of Aboriginal and pop-culture iconography was beautifully done, and the balance created through the imagery made it easily understandable despite my limited understanding certain cultural motifs. The result is a fast paced, engaging, and visually appealing experience.
I was instantly, and irrevocably, wrapped up in Pete’s journey from the very first page. The very meta nature of the opening page of story, showcasing a storyteller, expounded further by the narrator stating ‘let me tell you a story’ had me going daaaamn. I know it doesn’t sound super amazing in a review, but the layers in the book are so very meta, and I like meta – especially when it comes across without feeling at all pretentious! Now add in the integration of key documents on residential schools, the Bagot Commission, the 1867 Indian Act, and some painful and startling statistics; I couldn’t look away. I cried during the family mapping exercise (if you haven’t figured out by now that I am a crier, where the heck have you been?), and cried even more at Bernice’s funeral and when Ray came to visit Pete in prison.
I am in love with how everything came full circle in the end, and I know that this isn’t always the case in the real world. But it was really was a touching and uplifting way in which to end this story. But more than anything, I am in love with how LaBoucane-Benson actively invites readers to become part of the narrative and to become part of the healing process.
Would I recommend this book? HELL YAAAASSSS! Especially to Canadian junior and senior high school teachers and librarians. ‘The Outside Circle’ is impressive, empowering, massively educational, and yet ultimately a story of hope. It is incredibly efficient in breaking down stereotypes, helps readers to understand and identify injustices present in Canadian society, and humanizes issues that too often reduced to statistics. This is an absolute must read!
This is a guest post by Jessica Macaulay, a censorship-fighting school librarian that continually advocates for diversity and equality in collection representation. She is an unashamed comics geek and advocates for their inclusion for readers of all ages and levels, and is dedicated to changing the student and parent perception of what school libraries are and should be. Hop on over to Minimac Reviews for more reviews of books and comics like this one.