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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Omar Reviews: Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Prior to reading it for this review, Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley sat near the top of my "Must Read" list for years. Though O’Malley has been one of my favorite comic creators for a while, I never quite brought myself to read Lost at Sea. I’m not sure if it was because I never had access to it, or if it was never the right time. But now, I have read it. And I am glad I did.

This is O’Malley’s first original work. He wrote and released it while working on what eventually became the first Scott Pilgrim book, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. Lost at Sea is the story of four 18-year-olds traveling from California back to their homes in Canada. We experience the story from the perspective of Raleigh, a sullen young woman who claims to have no soul. As the four travel through California, enjoying their travels, Raleigh remains quiet and introspective. This isn't an adventure book; it’s a quiet book about a girl just trying to understand herself.

Lost at Sea reads very much like an 18-year-old’s journal. Normally, that would be enough to stop me from ever reading this book. When I first started, I thought I was going to have to force myself through it. Luckily, that wasn't the case. As I read, I wanted to read more (I consider this an achievement, since I won’t even read my journals from that age, much less anyone else’s journals). The sadness at times is palpable. The narration (Raleigh’s inner monologue) does a great job of making you feel the sadness that Raleigh is feeling. At times, though, I found myself wanting to shake Raleigh and tell her that her problems are childish (I wouldn't do that). But no matter what, I wanted to keep reading.

O’Malley’s writing in Lost at Sea is solid, though not what I had come to expect based on his later works. He knows how to tell a coherent story about characters that are easy to love. Lost at Sea feels much more stream of consciousness than typical graphic novels. While it works for Lost at Sea, a story very much about Raleigh’s thoughts and feelings, I’m glad that it’s a style that O’Malley veered away from in his later works. His art, however, is just as wonderful here as it is later in his career. Simplistic, yet incredibly emotive. Lost at Sea is not as action packed as the Scott Pilgrim series, but O’Malley makes great use of the panels and the pages.

The blurb on the back of the book says “If you've ever been eighteen, or confused, or both, maybe you should read this book.” That’s a fairly accurate assessment. There are a lot of people who just would not get this book. The feeling of just laying back and basking in your sadness is foreign to many people. Those of us who understand what it means to be inconsolably sad, and those that know that sometimes in order to get through sadness one must dive further into it, will grasp the full weight of Lost at Sea. Even if you can’t identify with Raleigh’s story, it’s easy to identify with her feelings.

It sounds like this is an endlessly sad book, and in many ways it can be. But not all sadness is completely sad. And sad stories such as Lost at Sea are worth the price.

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