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North Country    by Shane White order for
North Country
by Shane White
Order:  USA  Can
ComicsLit, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Coming home can be tough on many different levels. Home, where you grow up, holds a special place in the heart and yet, it can serve as a stark contrast between who you were and who you are. For Shane White, coming home means coming to terms with his past, present, and future. As he waits to board the plane from Seattle to his childhood home in Albany, he considers the mixed emotions and memories that a visit to his parents evokes. He has been home rarely in recent years, and is trying to explore how he fits in with a family that could best be described as dysfunctional.

Throughout his journey, Shane flashes back to highlights (both good and bad) of his childhood, trying to comprehend what his parents mean to him. Given his father's abuse, alcoholism, infidelity, and other blatant threats to the solidarity of his family, Shane ponders if forgiveness is possible. His mom was no saint either, for she often abandoned him and also delivered her fair share of blows. From times when money was tight and work scarce to when Christmas yielded abundant gifts, Shane's family struggled through the years on autopilot. The graphic novel powerfully relates the awkwardness of contending with dark family histories. How does one rationalize or justify maintaining a family unit in the fact of such disregard and anger? Shane can't figure it out, but it doesn’t stop him from continuing to probe. His exploits on the plane provide a brief distraction and redirection of his wandering memories while also providing insight into the man he has become.

Shane White provides what appears to be a autobiographical account of his life in upstate New York through the late 1970s and early 1980s. His strategic placement of anecdotes and events throughout the plane-trip story arc ever so slowly bring the reader from a dark and hard childhood to the more pronounced memories of adolescence in which Shane has come to a better understanding with his parents. In addition, the tint and tone of memory sequences changes through the graphic novel, adding a great symbolism to the different ways in which we hold certain events in our past. North Country reaches into the reader and demands reflection. Whether or not one can relate to White's specific history, one still ends up thinking back to the highlights and lessons of childhood. These thoughts easily lead to considering family dynamics and even to regret. White's mood and tone provide his audience with a space to think and appreciate or understand their lives.

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