Monday, February 14, 2011

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly art by JM Ken Niimura

Barbara Thorson is in fifth grade and kills giants, so she says.  No one believes her.  The kids at school pick on her and make fun of her, and Barbara often gets into pretty horrible fights.  One new girl at school, Sophia tries to be Barbara's friend, but she doesn't need or want friends.  Then the school starts making Barbara talk to Ms. Mole, the counselor.  Barbara does not like that at all.  Is Barbara really a giant killer?  Or is she trying to kill a giant she just can't handle.

Loved, loved LOVED.  This was awesome.  Seriously, so good.

For about half the book, it's difficult to tell what's going on with Barbara.  While the world seems like the real world, it might not be.  Maybe she really is a giant killer.  Maybe she knows something that no one else does.  Or maybe she's mentally unstable.  Maybe "killing giants" isn't what it actually sounds like and it means something else to her.  Maybe she THINKS it means killing actually giants but unconsciously it means something else.  As the reader, you have no idea.

Another fascinating aspect was Barbara's family situation.  Early on, we realize that her older sister, Sissy, is taking care of her.  Barbara has an older brother too, who is also still in school.  We don't know why Sissy is taking care of them.  She seems very overwhelmed and stressed.    Barbara refuses to go upstairs in the house.  There is something very very bad upstairs.  Something terrible and evil that not even she, as a giant killer, can handle.

The art is black and white, and I liked what was done with Barbara.  She has bunny ears.  Like, not a hat or anything, she just has bunny ears.  And no one finds this odd.  It sets her apart as different.  It was a really cool way of doing it.  You hardly even notice it, it's just part of her.

There's going to start being a lot of spoilers, and I highly recommend this one, so I'm going to do a jump.  Only jump if you want to know what happens.

 Through conversations with Ms. Mole, who goes to visit Barbara's sister, we find that Barbara's mother is in the house, upstairs.  It's mentioned giving her medication.  So now I'm wondering, is the mother mentally unstable?  Is that what's going on?  And the reason her sister is so upset is because she's afraid that it's happening to Barbara and she doesn't know what to do?  And that's why Barbara is afraid to go upstairs?

But no, that's not what it is.  Not at all.  It turns out their mother is dying of cancer.  And Barbara hasn't been able to accept this and has taken to trying to kill giants.  She won't go upstairs because she can't see her mother because then it would be real.  She'd rather fight imaginary giants than have to deal with a very big, very scary one.

Toward the end, during a tornado, a titan appears to Barbara, which she fights, (was the titan actually there?  I don't know.  Sophia could see it too) and gets swept out into the ocean.  Her family is afraid she's gone for good.  But than Barbara walks through the door.

And she goes upstairs and walks into the bedroom, and there's this full-page picture of her mother, lying there in a hospital style bed with an IV in her arm with her eyes closed, looking very peaceful.  No words.  The least scary person you should possible imagine, but that's what Barbara's horrors upstairs were, her mother dying.

The fight with the titan has helped her realize that she is stronger than she thinks, and she needs to spend time with her mother while she can.

I don't think I've done it justice.  It was so, so good.  Please read it.

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