Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross. Published 2006 by Fantagraphics Books. Graphica. Memoir.
Escape from "Special" is a book that's a little tough to like, but even tougher to ignore. I say it's a little tough to like only because Lasko-Gross covers such emotionally volatile territory- the inner life of a young girl from elementary school to the beginning of high school- in such a raw and honest way, and using artwork that is both accomplished and dark.
Lasko-Gross's character, Melissa, is a troubled girl who feels alienated and different in school and at home, in the special-education classes she attends and in a family she feels doesn't understand her. She lacks interest in religion, which her parents think could provide her with a community but which she sees as boring and oppressive. Her alienation deepens as she enters adolescence and navigates the murky, difficult waters of friendships and growing up. She enters high school having found a group of outsiders like herself, but not without a certain lingering insecurity.
Escape from "Special" can be difficult reading at times, if only because Lasko-Gross is so honest about the pain of adolescence and the quiet betrayals of friends that can leave a vulnerable teenager humiliated and sad. "It takes so much energy to keep girlfriends," Melissa says, "One slip up and I'm 'weird' or we're 'in a fight.' They get offended so easily! I can't let my guard down, even for a minute." This is not a woman who's forgotten what it's like to be kid, or to feel different, or to feel let down by people she's trusted. Lasko-Gross's artwork is varied and often quite beautiful. When she focuses on Melissa she often uses a graphic style that underlines her isolation; other times, the panels are full of detail and contrast. Her panels are flexible and varied and give the story a lot of movement; Lasko-Gross uses closeups and panoramas skillfully to bring the story along and reflect its emotional content.
Lasko-Gross's book is about kids, but it's definitely not for kids, although I think some older teenagers would appreciate her emotional honesty and would be able to handle the mild profanity and sexual references. I probably would have loved to have had this book when I was fifteen or sixteen. As it is, I'm glad it's around now, for me and for anyone else who's ever felt like they needed to escape.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.