Are You Listening by Tillie Walden (2019)

L: 6/10

M: 7/10

J: 5/10

Analysis from the way the sunlight looks, outside of the office window on a holiday weekend:

My next selection was Are You Listening?  by Tillie Walden. I grabbed the graphic novel from my comic book shop, Vault of Midnight, as one of thier book of the month selections. Going off of their employee recommendations has always worked well, but I kept skipping it for one reason or another when it came to my second pick.

Lou, a well-regarded mechanic in town, going on a road trip, picks up a local runaway, Beau, who needs to simply get out. The two women head off through Texas, learning about each other and, more importantly, themselves, as the trip spins into otherworldly dimensions. 

Things start off innocent at first, as the two find a stray cat and their trip slightly detours into finding its owners. A strange evil presence soon appears and tracks the girls, sending the story into confusingly unorthodox directions. I’m very able to stick with a story when it treads into bizarre waters, but something just didn’t feel quite right in this story.

All of the weight unleashed by the two main characters gets muddled by the zaniness of what becomes their journey. The rescued cat becomes a portal to another dimension, and the atmosphere of the entire story turns into something unrecognizable from the direction it started, and I had severely wanted it to maintain.

It’s still a solid first read from Tillie Walden, an author/illustrator that I’ve been meaning to read. The art worked with the story, giving it a real mysterious feel as the story began winding up. While it ended on a slightly sour note, the time spent getting to wherever it ended was worth it, and I look forward to checking out more of her work.

Analysis from the end of my rope:

I feel like I’m missing something. This story has all the makings of a great graphic novel, but somehow it misses the mark for me. Visually speaking, it was lovely. The artwork was perfectly fitting with the style of the story, and I felt the desire to flip back through the pages a few times just to soak up any detail I might have missed. The overall melancholy vibe of the story came through perfectly for me in the artwork and illustrations, even down to the color choices.
The storyline is where I get lost. I mean, I understand the gist of what is happening, but it feels like there was so much setup for so little payout. The entire cat thing is just insane. When I think of all the places that could have taken us and the wild ride, I thought I was getting on there, my head spins. Instead, it appeared to be a major plot point that the author just sort of gave up on towards the end. So the cat is magic? Or normal? Can build roads? Why? Who knows. Then you have the whole Bea being sexually assaulted, which appeared to be more of a footnote rather than a massive explanation that we were going to explore. And what about Lou’s mom? What was the real story and dynamic there?
I feel like what I was presented with is an incredibly detailed outline that shows some real potential. I would love it if someone would turn it into a full novel because the taste I did have was delicious. I just kinda want the whole meal.

Analysis from the mysterious look in a cat’s eye:

Reading this book was easy, almost too easy considering the themes. Understanding some of the ending, however, was not. I was rather enjoying this very quick, beautiful graphic novel until I thought perhaps I had started dozing and lost a mark somewhere. No, it in fact does go off the rails a little bit. 

Both of the commuters are running from something and the novel did an adequate job conveying both the need to move forward while also clinging to the past and what came before. I get the fear or shame in leaving behind something in order to grow. What I don’t understand is finding a cat who is going to take you on a psychedelic journey. I would have preferred if the novel more closely took a look at the issues in these young women’s lives and processed through the memories and circumstances that led them to their current situation. I especially felt betrayed because I experienced both of the circumstances the women were in and the writing turned very real problems into a whimsical adventure. I wanted to FEEL during this book and I felt repressed. Alas, it felt like the author ran out of room and had to wrap it up quickly.

I’d like to think that I personally was just not ready for what this GN was offering. I’d recommend this book as a speedy read for anyone who can get their hands on it simply because of its charming art. I plan on reading another Tillie Walden soon (possibly with my next selection) and hope it follows what, to me, is a more cohesive story that takes more chances to explore the depth of the topic.

Tillie Walden

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