What song do you think of when you think of insanity?
"Chopsticks" pretty much sums it up for me, with Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" coming in a close second. There's something about the repetitiveness of "Chopsticks" that echoes lunacy. When I realized that Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral's unusual teen mad romance utilizes this waltz to demonstrate how the main character, a piano prodigy, is careening off course, I immediately understood. No more words required. The name of this instantly recognizable tune conveys the message loud and clear. Obsessive playing of "Chopsticks" = mental illness.
But it took a while for me to catch on to this. I was busy poring over the many details displayed in this arty book. Seventeen-year-old Glory Fleming's story is told in a scrapbook format with photographs, artwork, reproduced IM chat, newspaper clippings and other ephemera. The reader knows she's a world-class pianist living in the Bronx. Her instructor is her father. Her mother has died in a motorcycle accident. A handsome boy from Argentina named Frank Mendoza moves in next door. Glory and Frank fall madly in love and then Glory leaves on a world tour. While on tour, Glory goes insane, as evidenced by her obsessive performing of "Chopsticks." She returns to the U.S. and is institutionalized. At this point, the reader understands that this book is actually a mystery. I won't give any more details than that, but it is UNSETTLING.
Now, let's discuss the format of this book a little more because it falls into the publishing category of graphic novels & comic books but is more nebulous, in my opinion. I've heard the phrases "photo novel" and "scrapbook novel" or even "art novel" used for books similar to Chopsticks and I guess "art novel" fits best. The Go Big Read choice Radioactive by Lauren Redniss fits into another, comparable category that defies traditional nonfiction or graphic novel labels. Are books like these relatively rare? Do others think of these as graphic novels? They really are works of art and the reading experience is very different, for me at least. I'd love to know what others think.