// Color Me Confused // Author: Ji Strangeway // Rating: 1/5
Synopsis: Ji Strangeway’s Red as Blue beckons LGBTQ youths and GenXers to beautifully come of age again in this prosey hybrid graphic novel.
15-year-old June Lusparian is an outcast caught between worlds. Half Mexican and half Armenian, June hovers on the border of adulthood, searching the streets of Paradise and the halls of Paradise High for signs of redemption – symptoms of life. She longs to carve open her own space to find a beating heart in a barren world. Only her secret gift for music offers a hint of hope. When she falls for blonde, cool girl Beverly, captain of the Spirit Girls cheer squad, June hopes she may, at last, have found that one true thing.
But as their nascent romance grows, June learns true connection requires more than a bond of pain and the ache of desire. Paradise is more than an idea, more than a town. And forgiveness never falls from heaven of its own accord.
Set in a fictional desert town in 1980s Colorado, RED AS BLUE is a moment of eternal tension on the verge of explosion. With a unique, genre-bending style that is sometimes lyrical, sometimes sharp as a razor’s edge, and always engaging; Ji Strangeway paints word-pictures of the volatile world between worlds in which June struggles to find relevance and worth at Paradise High. But June’s Paradise is on life-support, barely breathing.
Will death be the only answer?
*Please note: this book is hybrid graphic novel containing experimental storytelling format (comic illustrations, prose, script dialogue, novel, and cyber elements).
I received this book as an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes in this review may be different in the final publication.
I’m going to go with a good/bad setup for this review, but first
TW/CW: suicide, self harm, violence against women, homophobia, gun violence/school shooting
and this has to be said: This is not a graphic novel hybrid. Having a coloring book style art page every 30-40 pages does not equate to a graphic novel anything. Also, I don’t know if it was my electronic version, but often, the illustrated scene depicted had not happened in the narrative yet, so // awkward spoilers.
This review will be rather spoiler-y itself, so please scroll down to my final thoughts if you’d prefer.
This might be strange to have a “good” section in a review for a book I ultimately marked as a one-star, but I really wanted to like this book based on the premise; I thought it was commendable that the author tried something different in the formatting; and this book might speak to others in the way that the author intended. This is a love story between two young women, but there’s so much thrown at the reader in an almost tone-deaf way, that the rest of the narrative choices really chipped away at that love story for me.
Initially, I really liked the pulpy neonoir-ish writing style. The staccato sentence fragments worked for me (until they didn’t). Look at the way June, our main character, is introduced:
JUNE LUSPARIAN (15) is a vertical in a world of horizontals. Makes her think of the cursed Ugly Duckling. Since kindergarten she knew… That story’s bullshit, cuz it don’t stop nobody from hatin’ me. But that coat is hiding a bigger problem – a body molding its own Play-Doh. She’s growing hips, breasts, and everything that makes life hell.
That was quite beautiful in my opinion, and in the first chapter, you really get a sense of the mood of this small desert town and how stifling it is for June.
Here are some other excerpts I found particularly lovely:
Along the sideline, a group of cheerleaders in blue and gold chant, “EXPLODE! IGNITE! DEFENSE, LET’S FIGHT! D-E-F-E-N-S-E…” The sharp-edged cheers coalesce into giant block letters that float in the thin desert air and surround June like angry bullies.
Perfectly formed clouds suspend like Cool Whip in a generous sky that has never been so blue.
These excerpts for me captured the best of the story’s aesthetic and unique voice.
Finally, I liked the characters of Beverly’s mum and dad (Beverly is June’s love interest) and Katari, one of June’s friends, the little we saw of them. They were actually nice people in a sea of very angry, contradictory bullies. And the ending is hopeful and sweet, so there’s that, thankfully, especially after all the cruelty.
So much, unfortunately. Starting with a graphic and confusing suicide scene, I began to lose favor with this story. I honestly don’t know what the intent was of the scene, wherein June is self-harming in a bathroom stall, and another girl rushes in and kills herself over her boyfriend (it took a while for me to fully understand what had happened). The time jumps in this book are confusing, and although references are made to this incident several times after, it’s as if no one was affected by it. They only refer to the girl as “glass-eater” for the rest of the story, which, I almost have no words. That’s disheartening and crass and the narrative does this callous dancing around of important issues several times over.
June’s character is confusing. She may have some mental disability but the narrative doesn’t care to address it, other then with mean, simple lines of acknowledgement (Kimberly: “Her [June’s] elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.”) This starts to color Beverly’s relationship with June in a sad, unfortunate way, and it definitely turns Kimberly, who is extremely religious and homophobic and yet pursues physical interactions with Beverly and June, into a predatory monster.
The story gets very repetitive, with multiple scenes of bullying and violence against June, as well as the psychological manipulation Kimberly puts on Beverly. For all the long-windedness of the descriptions, it still feels like there are missing scenes as new scenarios are suddenly brought up (as if these characters have discussed important choices, but for whatever reason the reader doesn’t get to see that.) There are also breaks to really confusing metaphor strewn imaginings of June’s, but they just don’t work.
And then finally we get to a school shooting, with almost little forewarning. Which, especially after reading about the shooting this morning in Texas, it’s just… extremely unpleasant and woefully mishandled. All that pulpish neonoir goodness from the beginning of the book (which honestly reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Brick) is given to the POV of a school shooter. The writing during the shooting and the aftermath, where everyone is finally “united” under a memorial tree… I just can’t. It felt and read like a huge joke with these caricatures of high school bullies and administrators expressing not much of anything. It felt insincere to me.
Red as Blue is a mash up of the following: something sexually dark like a Harmony Korine movie, something 80s “high school is hell” like Mask, something trying to be funny like Howard the Duck, and finally a dash of But I’m a Cheerleader, which is great. While I at first liked the unique format and June’s character, the story got bogged down with over-the-top metaphorical visions and underdeveloped character interactions. Ultimately, I was thrown from fully liking this book due to its tonal disconnect from its serious subject matter.