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December 21, 2010

Discussing SLOTH by Gilbert Hernandez

Posted by Dana
In today's guest post, Bonnie Brzozowski, Reference Librarian at the Austin Public Library and our resident graphic novel expert shares her book clubs' experience this month!
51eU-pfbw4L._SL500_AA300_.jpgThis month Austin Public Library’s Graphic Novels Book Club read Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez, a stand-alone, short graphic novel by the co-creator of the very popular Love & Rockets series. Hernandez tells a story of three angsty teens, Lita, Miguel, and Romeo, growing up in a small town with about as many lemon orchards as people. In black and white, cartoonish but evocative panels, Hernandez weaves a somewhat complicated story of love and identity. While most of us were baffled trying to find meaning in some of the plot choices, we still had an interesting conversation about the trials of being a teenager and David Lynchian plot twists.
Hernandez captures the loneliness of growing up in a small town through the ominous lemon trees surrounding it. The story starts off with Miguel explaining a coma he was in for one year that he actually willed himself in and out of as a way to escape everyday life. We discussed the typical stereotype of the angst-ridden, dissatisfied teen and the ways the characters exemplified it, as well as our own experiences at the same age. It might have been easy to write off some of Miguel’s attitudes as simply the norm for his age, but a number of astute, wise-beyond-the-years comments had us sympathizing with him a great deal.
A complete role-reversal among the characters, “Mulholland Drive” style, sparked a lot of discussion as to the function of this major switch. The love triangle between the main characters is further developed and, along with it, the characters themselves gain more depth, but the complete change in story left some of us a little disoriented. Nonetheless, the role-reversal added many new layers to the story that lent itself well to a number of David Lynch movie comparisons.
Despite any difficulties uncovering meaning, we all agreed that the magical realism and emotional yet comic artwork made the story resonate. Sloth is certainly a highly discussable work suitable for any book club that enjoys literary fiction or the surreal with a touch of horror. Here are a few questions to get your discussion going:
What might the lemon orchards represent in this story? How do they factor in? What do they represent to the main characters?
Why are the three characters falling in and out of comas? What is this a metaphor for? Why are they so anxious to escape their realities?
-- Bonnie Brzozowski, Regular Contributor and Reference Librarian - Austin Public Library