Secret Passages

Top Shelf. Mar. 2022. 184p. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781603094993.
Gr 9 Up–Lenoir’s semi-autobiographical comic doesn’t just break the fourth wall; it invents a whole new space from which to engage readers and the author’s own upbringing. This examination of Lenoir’s childhood in Québec explores first grade and home life with her parents, who are depicted with the black, pupil-less eyes of extraterrestrials, and her manically enthusiastic brothers. Her younger self, Axelle, is a creative, sensitive soul who rejects authority and structure at every turn. A grave undercurrent and the author’s running commentary seem to foreshadow a transformative event or epiphany, but other than a recurring nightmare, no such pivotal moment occurs in Axelle’s otherwise humorous story, spanning 1985 to 1986. Lenoir wrings buckets of childhood joy, laughter, confusion, and doubt from her use of dimension and her expressive depictions of eyes. The chilled blue palette is an apt choice for the meta-narrative distance Lenoir maintains from readers, as her adult avatar simultaneously bares her soul while preemptively reacting to readers’ judgment. Axelle and her family are white.
VERDICT This first step into a vulnerable life story is packed with heart, humor, and deceptively cranky commentary. Audiences not put off by the slow pace or Lenoir’s standoffish shell will be rewarded with the rich inner life of an ‘80s kid absorbed in pop culture, creepy woods, and the maddening contradictions of growing up.

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