When I first read about I Kill Giants at Nymeth’s and Amanda’s blogs, I thought it was a fantasy. Actually, fifth-grader Barbara Thorson is the only one living in a fantasy world. Barbara wears animal-ear headbands so she looks like a rabbit or a mouse in the illustrations. Playing Dungeons and Dragons is a escape from life for her, and when she says “I kill giants,” she means it, for in her imagination, her giants are fantastic wild creatures that must be overcome.
Her role as giant killer is quite apropos, given her surname. Thor was the god of thunder, wielding a giant hammer in his fight against giants. Barbara’s giants exist in real life, but they are genuine problems, and ones we can all relate to.
I love this blend of fantasy and realism. Barbara’s story of learning to fight her giants is both entertaining and emotionally draining. We cheer for this sarcastic yet zesty young girl because we can relate to both her imaginary world and her realistic world.
Amanda mentioned in her mini-review that she was thrown off in the beginning. I was too. I didn’t mind it, though, because I was starting to see the strange blend of fantasy (Barbara’s imagination) and real-life (what actually is happening on this page?). I thought it was cleverly done, but I can see one being a bit disinterested after the first section if one was not expecting fantasy.
I also really enjoyed the conversation between the author and the illustrator that followed the story. Joe Kelly indicated that the idea came to him as he faced a similar “giant” in his life. By teaming with a manga-style illustrator (JM Ken Nimura), Kelly’s story was infused with a greater sense of fantasy. It gave the “battles” of the story a proper ground to expand into a wonderful novel.
And that is all I can say about I Kill Giants. I do not want to reveal the secret giants that Barbara faces because they are so well revealed by degrees in the novel. Suffice it to say that Barbara Thorson battles giants. It brought me to tears. That doesn’t by default make it great. Yet for this book, I was incredibly surprised to have been so emotionally moved. I wasn’t expecting it and to be so emotionally engaged gave this book a rewarding depth.
It’s a great story with marvelous illustrations and an inspiring point in the end. I think it’s the first non-fantasy fiction graphic novel I’ve enjoyed to such an extent. Of course, it might be the first non-fantasy fiction comic I’ve ever read, too, so I’m now incredibly eager to find another favorite!
Here is one picture from the comic. It’s kind of the defining moment at the beginning (page 9).
If you’d like to get an even better feel for the artwork and mix of fantasy versus reality, you can read the first part online at Image Comics. I’d highly recommend you read the entire novel, whether you’re getting it from your local bookstore or the library. (I had to Interlibrary Loan my copy!)