by Sam Kusek
Neil Barton is your quintessential bookworm. Happiest when his nose is buried in the middle of his favorite young adult fantasy series, Apathea Ravenchilde, Neil is not looking forward to his transition into high school. Like many of us at that tender age of 13, Neil doesn’t exactly know who he is yet, having little means of self-expression in his quiet and very religious town of Americus. It isn’t until a local church activist group deems Apathea Ravenchilde “unfit for souls of our youth,” and his best friend is sent off to military school, that Neil has to take a stand and find out exactly what he’s made of.
What I enjoyed most about this book was Neil’s journey from young, unsure child to young adult. His experience is like so many of our own, making it extremely relatable. Throughout the book, Neil is influenced by a number of older men and women, from vegan librarians to punk music enthusiasts and begins to see a world outside of the scope the dreary small town he and his single mother live in. To further emphasize the point, the book is interspliced with scenes from the young adult novel (Apathea Ravenchilde), which features a big reveal about Apathea’s origin and family relations and the rising tension between the library committee and the activist group, providing a wonderfully complex sense of balance and allows the book to touch upon a number of the issues of young adulthood, such as relationships with lovers and parents and often feeling trapped by the society around us.
The author, MK Reed, really emphasizes opening your mind and your heart and engaging in as much as possible, as the solution for breaking through the clutter. This notion is unfortunately counterbalanced by the religious folk of the book, who are represented as ignorant, scatter-brained, stubborn small-town folk who use Christianity as a weapon to eradicate any obstacle in their path. While I understand where these stereotypes come from, it really bothered me that this was the only depiction of religion, in a book that puts so much emphasis on finding your own path and opening your heart to new experiences. I know that religion can be twisted and used in very negative ways but I think there are a lot of benefits to having faith that are overlooked in this book.
Artistically, Americus brings a style that is both effectively expressive and easy on the eyes. Jonathan Hill does a good job at bringing life to the characters and allowing them to really wear their hearts on their sleeves. The artwork and character designs are fun btu not incredibly detailed in any which way, which for what Americus is trying to accomplish, works wonders. The anonymity of the town and its residents make it easier to see this situation to take place anywhere; for the reader to assimilate themselves into the story, which I believe is the true beauty of the story.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to younger readers, right around Neil’s age of 13 and 14. The story is very concise, presents a fantastic breadth of life lessons and is a very satisfying read by the end of the book. It’s a quick read, which has its benefits and would definitely be a book that you should pass around to all kinds of readers.
TL;DR Americus is a satisfying coming-of-age story that gives a breadth of life lessons. It is a quick but sweet read for adults and a great, relatable title for young adults still trying to figure themselves out.
Americus is written by MK Reed with art by Jonathan Hill, published by First Second Books. You can ask for it at your local comic book shop, buy it from the publisher or support Spandexless and buy it through our web store.
Samuel “Self Confidence Skeleton” “Big Ol’ Robot” Kusek has always been an advocate for the comic book format and specifically a big fan of Manga. He previously wrote for Popcultureshock’s Manga Recon, is an aspiring cartoonist himself and enjoys a good bowtie. You can find his tweets at @SamKusek.