illus. by Shaun Tan. 40p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Feb. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338298390.
Gr 8 Up—Isolated and alone, Cicada is bullied, ignored, overworked, and underappreciated during their 17 years of work for a nameless corporation housed in a depressing gray skyscraper. Now that retirement has arrived, Cicada is at a loss, but hidden under Cicada's wrinkled gray suit lies unexpected strength. The spare text is made up of concise sentence fragments, mimicking the Basho haiku included on the closing folio page, and emphasizing Cicada's otherness. Each page features just three lines of text followed by Cicada's rhythmic "Tok Tok Tok!" printed in a simple font on light gray pages. The illustrations, created with oil paints on canvas and paper, are unflinchingly direct. Utilizing a palette of black, white, and gray with just a touch of the green from Cicada's head and handlike legs protruding from vast suit cuffs, light and shadow depict the static, sterile, impersonal corporate world. In some illustrations, repeated shapes seem to represent the incessant repetition of office work. The spreads each feature a vignette showing the humiliation and isolation Cicada has endured for so many years. The climax, starting with a series of wordless spreads and finishing with just four lines of text is heartbreaking and freeing, relentless and hopeful. There's much to explore, interpret, and examine in this unique and symbolic art book. How does our attitude and position affect our perspective on our situation in life? Is Cicada's "Tok Tok Tok!" a plaintive cry or a derisive laugh? Can it be both?
VERDICT Tan fans and others willing to take a deep dive into the many layers of this fascinating book will find much to appreciate. Those who take a shallow dip may end up feeling unsettled and bewildered.

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