Monday, June 20, 2011

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Paige's family moves from Virginia -- where she's always lived -- to New York City, and suddenly, she's torn from everything she's known. Her life has fallen into a new place, and she's lost any sense of who or what she is. She knows she's an artist, but having that label applied to herself is tough to understand. She doesn't know where she fits into the new scheme of her high school, an urban high school where everyone seems to know exactly who they are and where they fit in. She doesn't want to be the "new girl" forever, but it's tough finding a place to slide into.

Paige pours those feelings into her notebook, one where she's also noted the rules her grandma gave her when it comes to making art. As she begins unraveling her feelings about her new life and about who she is, Paige begins making new friends -- both by accident and by purposeful interaction on her part (though she'd never admit to that). While making these new friends, she begins to understand what her purpose in this new life is, as well as begins to understand that being an artist is part and parcel of who she is. It's how she deals with things, and it's how she processes and understands the world around her.

Page by Paige is a new addition to the slight world of stand alone graphic novels geared toward teen girls. There are no superheroes in here. Instead, it's a fully fleshed story about growing up and about change. It's perhaps most about better understanding who you are as a person and embracing the things about you that make you unique. It's a bit of an artist's manifesto, even. As a reader, I understood everything that Paige said and struggled with when it came to making art and to valuing the role art plays in understanding oneself. I think anyone who has ever done something artistic, something that really requires delving deep inside to express a feeling or a thought or an idea, will relate to Paige easily; there's a real tension between going out and living, sometimes and sitting back and letting life live around you, and Gulledge captures that strongly in both the words she's written and in the illustrations that heighten those words.

The book is structured around the nine rules which Paige's grandmother told her about creating art, and I think that the set up and execution of the book are successful because of this. The rules help Paige process herself and her place in this new, foreign, even exotic world she's entered, and at the same time, they serve as her guidebook to creating meaning in her art. What was extremely smart on Gulledge's part in illustrating the story, though, was not putting all of the rules out there from the beginning. Had she done that, we'd know the whole of Paige's story from the set up; instead, we're given the first three rules in an early illustration, but we're lead through the remaining rules as the story progresses and as we begin to sympathize and urge Paige on in her path to finding who she is.

Characters in this book were well done, and I appreciated that they never swerved into stereotypes. Paige falls into a group of artistic kids, but they're not set up as the strange ones in school, and neither are they outcast or the popular kids. Instead, they're all individuals, and I could keep them apart in my mind. Since the book's told through Paige's point of view, it would have been easy to have these secondary characters fall into a trope, but they didn't -- which is both proof of Paige's ability to grow up and work toward her goals, as well as proof of Gulledge's ability to flesh out individuals quite well.

The illustrations in the book -- done in black and white only -- are unique, and I found them to be strong and in harmony with the text. The details included in the illustrations make it modern, as many of the characters wear t-shirts sporting favorite bands (that are current), and perhaps my favorite little details included seeing what the characters were reading at different points in the story (Paige, for example, delves deep into Y: The Last Man). I found these little details important because they really spoke to an idea Paige brings up in her own art and in the rules she follows: inspiration. It was fun to be right there with her as she sought and found moments of inspiration in the world around her, and again, it makes these things relatable to readers who also find inspiration for their own art all around them. I won't lie: I found the fact Paige has her own treadmill desk one of the highlights of this book for me.

Perhaps my only issue with the graphic portion of this story is that at times it felt very young, given the strength and the wisdom in the text itself. For me, the cover and font used on it speak more to a middle grade readership than a young adult one, and this is not a book for a middle grade audience. Middle school, definitely, but not middle grade.

My biggest challenge with the book, though, is that at times it borders on didactic. The points Gulledge wants to make with readers are important, but they're almost served a little too clearly and obviously in the story. The rules from Paige's notebook work perfectly to service the story's goal, but there are instances throughout the book that these points are hammered home a little too much. As an adult, I found myself a little frustrated with those things being hit on again and again, and I can imagine that might turn some teen readers off entirely. Paige is a quieter character, and she's one who is very internally focused. In no way does this make her dumb or unaware of herself and the path she needs to take to fit in and to understand the role art plays in her life. I think a lot of times characters who are quieter and more focused internally are branded as the kind of characters who need things repeated to them since they're not showing off these lessons or their thoughts out loud or in showy ways; as someone who's had people talk down to me because of my own need to process internally, I was annoyed for Paige that these "big lessons" were repeated and repeated and repeated. At the end, it felt like Paige's coming to terms with herself was too adult-like, too reflective and insightful. It was a little too idealized.

While reading, I spent a lot of time thinking about audience for Page by Paige and actually had little trouble figuring out who'd like this book -- fans of realistic fiction, artists, or anyone who has ever felt like an outcast or experienced a huge change in their life. I read this at the same time I was rereading Siobhan Vivian's Same Difference, and I saw countless parallels between Emily and Paige. In fact, I almost brought Gulledge's book to my teen book group's discussion of Vivian's book because I thought they'd be an excellent pairing. Fans of Liz Gallagher's recent title, My Not-So-Still Life will also find great parallels between the stories and characters.

This is the kind of book you could sell easily to regular fans of realistic fiction, even if they're not usually fans of graphic novels. Fans of Cecil Castellucci's Plain Jane books will also enjoy this one. As I mentioned earlier, this book will work well for middle and high school students, though I wouldn't feel comfortable handing it to middle grade readers. There aren't language issues, but some topical ones that make it more appropriate for those ages. And while I think there are certainly males who will read and relate to this story, I think the audience for Gulledge's book will be primarily female.

If you want more information about the book, want to check out the inspiration for the story, or want to download some of the cool art associated with the book (like Paige's rules shared above), make sure you check out the author's website. There's also an entire blog devoted to just Page by Paige here. For anyone who does art or writing workshops, these look to be great places for ideas and inspiration.

3 comments:

  1. Hmm, this sounds really cute. I'm not a big Graphic NOvel person but I might give it a try...

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  2. I'm glad you reviewed Page by Paige. I really enjoyed it, but your review caused me to wonder about the audience. I think my fourteen-year-old nephew might like it, since he draws all of the time.
    I also thought of the Plain Janes when I read it.

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