Text: Marika McCoola
Illustrations: Aatmaja Pandya
Design by: Neil Swaab
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
This graphic novel deals with suicide and self-harm. Its back matter includes several mental health resources: the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), The Trevor Project (www.thetrevorproject.com), and the Crisis Text Line (www.crisistextline.org; “In a crisis, text HOME to 741741 to connect 24/7 with a trained crisis counselor”).
Slip is the coming-of-age story of Jade, a young ceramics artist with a lot on her plate. Not only is she spending the summer in the crucible of a competitive arts camp, but she’s found herself in the midst of her first romance with fellow artist Mary. This is all complicated by the feelings Jade faces after learning that her closest childhood friend, Phoebe, attempted suicide just before Jade left for the Art Farm.
With its own internal language, and a sensibility that refuses to turn away from the reality of the challenging situation in which Jade is embroiled, Slip is a meaningful rumination on an often-overlooked and rarely discussed experience.
One of the elements of Slip that I very much enjoyed was Jade’s work with ceramics. On the one hand, I appreciated how these ceramics became inextricable from the graphic novel’s thematic explorations: namely, how the miraculously enlivened animal sculptures were never repaired once they had been broken.
For some readers, this development might be surprising. In so many works of fiction (and perhaps especially in certain spheres of sequential graphic narrative), there are few thresholds that can’t be uncrossed – including (or perhaps even especially) death.
But this impermanence is, in a sense, dishonest. There are thresholds that you can’t cross back over. You can’t always get the toothpaste back into the tube. Not every broken work of clay is suitable for kintsugi, no matter how hard you might wish for restoration, or how justified you believe your desire for the same to be.
However, the other reason I enjoyed the inclusion of these elements of ceramics in Slip is that they were interesting. I’ve read a lot of books about, say, the craft of being a writer, but not so many about the craft of ceramics. This meant that many of the details of, say, kiln use proved not only to be a thematically rich vein, but also proved interesting on a purely informational level.
Another aspect of Slip which I found to be outstanding was the use of color. From the very first pages of the graphic novel, it is established that the “default” page is presented in a grayscale color scheme. However, this is interrupted when Jade receives a call from Phoebe in the hospital, with the news of Phoebe’s suicide attempt. The final panel on the page is presented in red, as are several panels on the next page and the entirety of the page after that.
Moving forward, this red color scheme appears repeatedly, embodying the overwhelming emotions that accompany Jade having to face the reality of her friend’s suicide attempt. After demonstrating to the reader how this relationship between color scheme and emotion works in the very early pages of Slip, it is used throughout the text, to great effect.
One powerful example takes place just after Jade has arrived at the Art Farm and is meeting her artist peers. When Asher asks Jade to provide a crit on a painting of Persephone. Rendered with Pomegranate juice, the portrait draws a comparison between Persephone’s voluntary consumption of a pomegranate seed with suicide, depicting the goddesses as slitting her wrists in conjunction with the ingestion of the seed.
However, because of Jade’s personal experiences, the depiction of suicide comes as an emotional shock. This is depicted by rendering the painting in red, even as artist Asher stands beside it in the same mostly-red panel, but rendered in the “standard” grayscale. This is given further depth still when the page is turned, as the next panel shows Jade’s reaction: however, this panel is primarily presented in grayscale, including Jade’s outline – however, unlike the rest of the panel, Jade is “colored-in” red, illustrating the reality of the emotions she’s experiencing.
Coming-of-age is never easy, and Slip presents an honest and ruminative examination of how it can be further complicated when one is dealing with the myriad emotional challenges that can accompany an attempted suicide by someone close to you. But while the thematic topics covered by the graphic novel can get very heavy indeed, Slip also depicts the beauty and growth that can occur in the wake of tragic circumstances.
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