Saturday, April 04, 2009

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Books Completed: 89
Completion Date: March, 2009
Pages: 368
Publication Date: January, 2008

Reason for Reading: Graphic Novels Challenge, New Author Challenge
Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards

The setting: suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the outset that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you’ve got it, that’s it. There’s no turning back.

As we inhabit the heads of several key characters — some kids who have it, some who don’t, some who are about to get it — what unfolds isn’t the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it , or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself — the savagery, the cruelty, the relentless anxiety and ennui, the longing for escape.

And then the murders start.

As hypnotically beautiful as it is horrifying, Black Hole transcends its genre by deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it- back when it wasn’t exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird.

To say nothing of sprouting horns and molting your skin…
Nymeth asked the following question about this book:

Charles Burns said that the plague can be seen has a metaphor for adolescence itself. Does this interpretation make sense to you? Why or why not?

- This interpretation totally makes sense to me! All of us have been in school, so I think that most people know what high school is all about. There were the popular students, the students that slipped through the cracks, and the students that were ridiculed. Obviously, there are little sub-groups in all the major groups, but that was what high school was. In this book, Burns has it so that the people that have the plague are the 'unpopular' students. It is changing a bit now, but in most high schools the administration and teachers are aware of the fact that students are picked on, but they don't do anything about it. That's contributing factors to why students come to school with guns or commit suicide. The plague is the same thing. Instead of figuring out what is wrong, the students are shunned and they are forced to run away because they are different. This is a perfect example of how things are not done to to help those in need. Burns just turns the popularity contest into a real sickness.

In normal high schools, students are often treated badly for minor things. Burns makes it a major thing- with the students growing tails and molting their skin. I bet, though, many people who read this book had more sympathy and outrage for the treatment of these plague sufferers than they had for the picked on when they were in high school... In this book there is also the depressed and a little crazy student that carried a gun. I can see so many comparisions between what high school was like and what school was like for these plague sufferers. It was a learning experience. It reminded me what high school could be like, that's for sure! It was also interesting that there was really no adults present in this book. The story was told from the point of view of the students, it showed their reactions to the plague, and we saw them suffer from it, but we were never really shown the adult point of view. None of the students told their parents they were sick, either. It is like when you are being bullied, it takes a lot to go home and tell your parents. People are ashamed when they are bullied in some cases, and the students in this book were ashamed that they were sick.

The other thing to think about in regards to this book is that this plague was actually a sort of STD. Now, think about all the illnesses present in our society that are transported sexually. We are aware of them, but many people still have unprotected sex. This was the same case in this book. The students were scared of the plague, but even knowing how it was spread they didn't do anything preventive. They still had sex unprotected. This is obviously a very clear message in this book. You try reading it and not think 'How stupid can you be?' Well, we might not have the same diseases, but we do have the same reactions... And then, when you get the diseases you are shunned and treated terribly for them. Like AIDs... As you can see, Burns has a lot going on in this book.


  1. This sounds interesting. High school was rough.

  2. High school :shudders: I would not go back if they paid me :P

    I really like your answer, and I love the point you make about the absence of adults. I hadn't thought of that!

  3. I love that it is set in Seattle and that it presents a bigger metaphor for society (and adolescence). High school days, they sure were tough. We sure were stupid.

    Great review though :)

  4. I remember Nymeth's review and boy did even the idea of the story freak me out!

  5. Oooh, I didn't realize this had won I can use it for the Book Awards Challenge. WooHoo...another excuse to crack this one open!


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