cover image The Parakeet

The Parakeet

Espé, trans from French by Hannah Chute. Graphic Mundi, $21.95 (148p) ISBN 978-0-271-08805-1

Espé’s heartbreaking graphic novel gets at the insidious nature of depression and how it is inexplicable to those not in its grasp. Eight-year-old Bastien witnesses his mother, Marie, cycle through psychiatric facilities and treatment plans, none of which do more than provide a temporary respite from her mental illness, while his father and grandparents struggle to handle her episodes. Espé’s expressive linework and color choices—some sections are hued with greens, others blues, but the panels where Marie is overcome by her rages are red—convey Bastien’s shifting emotions as he watches his mother deteriorate. Often, he is relieved not to be around her, even as he misses her. Espé’s artistic virtuosity shines when depicting how Bastien uses his imagination as a defense. As Marie gets electroshock therapy, for instance, Bastien envisions the superhero Wolverine strapped to a table for experimentation, and that his mother also will evolve into a superhero. But despite the limited relief of these fantasies, Bastien just wants his mother to be present. In one scene, with her depression at bay, Marie and Bastien hike in the woods and she teaches him about wildlife and comforts him when he’s scared. “When I’m not there, promise me you’ll only think about the good times we’ve spent together,” she says in one rather devastating moment. This beautifully told and brutal story strikes home. (Mar.)