Monday, April 6, 2009

Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

It's like how the grass is greener on the other side. Grass just looks nicer from the other side, you know? Grass where you're standing looks like dirt with green hair.

Lost at Sea is an earlier graphic novel written by Bryan Lee O'Malley, of Scott Pilgrim fame. This is, without a doubt, one of my new favourites. I had to ILLO it from another library system, but halfway through it I purchased it online from my local bookstore so that I can have it and love it forever and ever. It was just one of those books that I know instinctively I will never want to do without.

Raleigh is an eighteen year old, caught between her last year of high school and her first year of university. More specifically, she is caught in a car with three of her classmates, driving back to Canada from California. She is painfully shy and terrified of everything, including her classmates, friendship, and cats. The story unfolds slowly from a very personal first-person point of view, as we read Raleigh's thoughts throughout the book, interspersed with events as they are happening.

I think Raleigh is wonderful, as are her classmates. But that wasn't the only reason I loved this book. I love it for its quirky sense of humour, yes, and the art is cute, the writing is fantastic, and the plotline is engaging. But what shifts it from a good read to likely my favourite book of the year so far (maybe even as favourite as The Wee Free Men) is the way O'Malley has managed to capture that terrifying, confusing, painful, yet unique, tender, and beautiful feeling of growing up and being somewhere between a kid and an adult. I remember being there. Not exactly where Raleigh is, because each of us experiences growing up differently, and one of the things this book did for me was remind me of how individual the experience of trying to become an adult is. It reminds me to look at teens I meet and not just think "I've been there" but also "but not exactly there."

I remember having Raleigh's superlative quality to my thoughts; now I think of it as angst but I suspect I do myself (and other teens) a disservice to think it was only that. I really was trying to figure out my place in the world, in relation to my family, my friends, my ideals, my path in life. It all seemed so immediate and urgent. Sometimes I made good decisions. Sometimes I was stupid. But I was living it all with immediacy, even while desperately hoping to get out of it soon and wondering if anything would ever make sense. (It still doesn't all make sense, but I'm a lot more comfortable with that now.) Part of what amazes me is how well O'Malley captures that kind of thought process. I don't want to go back to being a teenager, but this was a surprisingly pleasant visit to that mental space again.

As for the material of the story, we don't know why Raleigh is in California, or how she met up with her classmates, or what has happened that has so unsettled her that she would agree to drive to Canada in a car with three people she barely knows. Things have happened to Raleigh and even when we begin to see the full story, it's not the full story. Much of this is left up to the reader to surmise. I think O'Malley has given us just the right amount of information. My reading of the story was not that something bad had happened to Raleigh, although I suppose that's a possibility; just something big and different and scary and wonderful. I'd be interested to see what others interpreted.

A few more quotes. I've tried to take the ones that still give you a sense, even divorced from the art, but there's a lot of wonderful moments in which both are so completely integrated that there's no way to share them if I can't show you the images.

But excuse my digressing because I do have a life story and it may not be important or interesting but it begins with a best friend and it ended this morning. Sort of. Well it ends with now, technically, or it doesn't really end at all but it doesn't go past now, yet, at least.

This specific trip, even, California to home: this isn't the first time I've taken it. This trip is a recurring theme for me. I'm sure it means something, but I'm kind of bad at taking meaning from things that way. The cats, the road, mom, California, Vancouver and everything in between. It means something to have no soul and no friends and too many cats that I can't even touch. What does it mean?

I'm also going to parrot part of the back blurb as my recommendation for who should read this:
Raleigh is eighteen years old, and she has no idea what she's doing. If you've ever been eighteen, or confused, or both, maybe you should read this book.
Yes, I'd say that covers it.


Ana S. said...

As favourite as The Wee Free Men! Clearly I HAVE to read this. And even divorced from the art, I love those quotes.

Unknown said...

Seriously, you do. It is absolutely stellar. It saddens me that this book isn't particularly well-known.

Jill said...

I'm really enjoying the Scott Pilgrim books. My library doesn't have this, but I will see if I can get my hands on it when I'm finished with the SP series. This sounds great!

Unknown said...

Darla, it's so worth the search, if you can find it. Let me know if you can't get it, I'll see what I can do!

Jill said...

Well, thanks Kiirstin! That's sweet of you. :-)

Unknown said...

I must admit, my motives are thus: I'd really love to see what you think of it! I'd like everyone in the world to read it, and I'm hoping it's that good and not just me being a little crazy.

Jill said...

LOL! I'm sure if you're crazy, it's in a good way. :-) I'll see if I can get it through ILL, and I'll be sure to let you know. I'm interested to see what he did pre Scott Pilgrim.

Ana S. said...

So, I finished it. Thank you so much for the recommendation. It was such a lovely and tender book. I didn't interpret what happened to Raleigh in a negative way either. I think you put it perfectly when you said "big and different and scary and wonderful." I think the reason why she was so hurt was because that huge experience happened and then it ended and she had to go home again and deal with that rawness on her own. I felt really close to her when she finally revealed what happened because I experienced something sort of similar when I was only one year older than she is. And when it seemed that she was being dramatic or whatever, all I had to do was remember that yes, it did feel that desperate and huge. I wonder how old Bryan Lee O'Malley was when he wrote this... he captured all the feelings so well.

Unknown said...

I think I've read somewhere that he was 24? So not that far away from it, but far enough that I was impressed with his empathy and the deft portrayal of an 18-year-old girl's thought process.

I am *so glad* you enjoyed this. And I think you're exactly right, that she felt cut adrift, and terrified by that, and unsure of how to deal with it by herself, when she is clearly very used to dealing with things by herself. Thanks so much for letting me know what you thought!

Anonymous said...

Definitely a very good story, purchased it, scanned it and archive it onto a disc.