You go to school and announce to your fifth grade class that you kill giants. Really. You kill giants. What do they say?
You are crazy. A nutcase. A freak.
Barbara Thorson is a skinny kid with bunny ears and a heart-shaped purse holding her magic hammer named Coveleski. With that hammer she kills giants. And she is angry, so she may be the worst (or perhaps the best) kind of giant-killer: an angry giant-killer. So, you would do yourself a favor and not get Barbara pissed. But giants can do exactly that to all of us. We never really know when our own giant will rear its ugly head. So, wouldn’t we all be lucky to have our own magic hammer?
I Kill Giants started life as a short series of comic books, and now, wonderfully for all of us, it’s available as a single graphic novel. It’s tough to review this book without giving away key elements to the plot, but I’ll dance around those and give you just a taste of the story. First and foremost, don’t assume too much from the title. Barbara may slay giants, but the world is filled with so many different kinds of towering beasts.
Tormented at school, without a friend, and struggling through her own private turmoil, Barbara’s life is a bowl overfilled with grief and fury. But no matter the words people say or the cruelty they inflict, Barbara refuses to back down. After all, she can confront those enraged giants and eliminate them with the mighty Coveleski hammer.
Two people become important to her. Sophia, a new girl in town, is the friend she desperately needs. Mrs. Molle, the school social worker, refuses to give up on Barbara – even after the girl lands a vicious slap across her face. There is a beautiful scene I just loved. Barbara learns that Mrs. Molle did not tell the principal about the slap. They sit together and Mrs. Molle says, “Tell me about giants.” So they talk about giants. Barbara tells Mrs. Molle about the magic hammer, and she asks to see it. Barbara says no. “Because I like you… I don’t want you to hurt yourself. When Coveleski speaks, the world cries.”
The black and white artwork is splendid. Messy. Intense. Angry. It perfectly captures life inside Barbara’s brain. We see the world through Barbara’s eyes – not just what she sees, but how she sees it. I Kill Giants is a perfect example of the power of graphic novels to not just tell stories, but to tell different kinds of stories. The images are as vital to the story as the words. And don’t let anyone tell you graphic novels can’t be about important ideas. Read I Kill Giants and you will find plenty of ideas. Filled with humanity and emotion and grace, this story will resonate with all of us as we move through life confronting our giants.
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