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Review: What You Don't Get

Every once in a while a comic comes along that tugs at your heartstrings and flushes out your tear ducts. Blankets. Persepolis. Pride of Baghdad. I recently read one of those comics. It’s called What You Don’t Get, written and drawn by indie comic creator Anne Thalheimer. This book follows a semi-autobiographical track, following Anne from high school through college and into adulthood, focusing on the impact of an event that forever altered the course of her life: a double homicide at Simon's Rock College on Dec 13, 1992.

The book is mostly linear in narrative with occasional detours into introspection and personal confessions. It is drawn wholly in black-and-white, which is incredibly appropriate and ironic considering that the material exists entirely in a world of grey. The art makes one think of doodles that one would find in a journal or on the side of a class notebook, fitting for an author who spent most of her life in classrooms both as a student and instructor. There’s a rare time when you see the marriage of words and art mesh so cohesively for the story being told. There are no wasted details or lines. Everything is there for a reason, from chicken suits to teardrops.

What You Don’t Get is not structured in chapters, but definitely has two halves: life before the Simon’s Rock shooting and life afterwards. I first read this a week or two after watching Silver Linings Playbook, an honest and oftentimes scary depiction of living with a mental illness. What You Don’t Get reminded me of that movie: it's an honest and oftentimes scary depiction of life after a traumatic event. The raw emotions, introspection, and anecdotes both hysterical and heartbreaking force the reader to think about what it is like to live through this awful situation through the eyes of one survivor. The experience is breathtaking and heart wrenching, but altogether much larger than the sum of the 128 pages.

This is not a happy story, but it’s not tragic either. There are elements of both weaved in a tale about love, life, loss, and what it means to really live. It's cathartic. If you’re a crier, get a box of tissues because you’ll need them. If you’re not a crier, keep a box of tissues handy just in case. This is the kind of comic that everyone should read once and remind themselves how powerful comics can be when executed properly. That said, I’m definitely giving it another read. If you’re interested, you can purchase a copy here.