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Escape from 'Special'    by Miss Lasko-Gross order for
Escape from 'Special'
by Miss Lasko-Gross
Order:  USA  Can
Fantagraphics, 2006 (2006)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

The label of special has taken on detrimental connotations over the years. Since it is one of those words in the English language that says little but can infer much, special has been overused to cover a wide range of ideas. Daily specials can be found at many restaurants. Special education is provided at most schools. Doctors specialize in certain kinds of medicine. Partners refer to each other as being special. For Melissa, special is a title bestowed upon her by parents, teachers and other adults in her life. She doesn't quite fit in with those around her. She continually finds herself in awkward situations that further alienate her from family, friends, and classmates. Her leftist Jewish parents attempt to help via therapists, new schools, and surprise parties, but of course, these fall miserably flat or worse, backfire on Melissa.

This graphic novel doesn't so much tell a linear story about Melissa but is rather a collection of brief snippets of her life, stapled together in a chronological order with a resolution that reveals a semi-climactic change in the character but does not include a typical culminating end-of-the-book sequence of events. But it works for this collection. Lasko-Gross's semi-autobiography traces through her life in a realistic manner of incidents that have become part of her inner narrative. They don't always clearly connect, but taken together create an impression of her life. She presents the hypocrisies, challenges, and frustrations of young people as they begin to assert their identity and freedom but continue to butt heads with parents and peers. With great subtlety, she reveals how vying for identity became a battleground upon which she fought everyone around her, including herself.

Lasko-Gross's drawing leaves little room for clear panels. She fills each with background, though often enough she uses a stark black background and only on rare occasions will she apply white backgrounds. She checks her ego at the door when drawing Melissa. With a gap in her front teeth, dark-thick eyebrows, and unattended bangs, Melissa looks exactly as any middle-school misfit should. She's fair in appearance; not ugly but certainly not pretty. We all spend a decent amount of time escaping from special or attempting normality, desiring to fit in with others. Lasko-Gross's book speaks to a wide audience. Readers will enjoy the mishaps and awkward moments of Melissa's life, with their own recollections of similar incidents.

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