________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 18 . . . . January 16, 2015


Adrian and the Tree of Secrets.

Hubert. Illustrated by Marie Caillou. Translated by David Homel.
Vancouver, BC; Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014.
123 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $18.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55152-556-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55152-557-0 (epub).

Subject Heading:
Graphic novels.

Grades 6-12 / Ages 11-17.

Review by Rob Bittner.

*** /4


Adrian and the Tree of Secrets is a deceptively simple, but beautifully illustrated graphic novel, exploring themes of religion, bullying, philosophy, and the intimacy of a first kiss with another boy. Adrian is unhappy, trapped in high school, bullied by his peers, and smothered by an overly religious mother. When he meets Jeremy, however, things begin to change. Jeremy takes him down in a soccer match and when he has to take Adrian to the nurse, the boys begin to bond. As they start to spend more time together, taking scooter trips and hanging out in Jeremy's secret tree house, their real feelings for each other come bubbling to the surface. Things almost seem to be going perfectly for Adrian until Jeremy's girlfriend sees them and everything goes downhill.

      Marie Caillou's illustration style drew me in immediately. Through a combination of silhouette style images and pastel colours, Hubert's story comes to life, serving to show readers the passage of time and also reflecting (and sometimes juxtaposing) the mood of the story. Because facial expressions and body language are subtle within this illustration style, readers will have to look closely and spend time with the book in order to experience all of the subtleties of Adrian's emotional journey. The lines are crisp, and the colours unconventional, which gave me a continuously uneasy feeling throughout the book, something that I think was done very purposefully.

      Though the book, itself, is brief, Hubert manages to build a protagonist that readers will care about and become emotionally invested in. Even secondary characters like Jeremy, Adrian's mother, and the principal—who are ultimately much less likeable than Adrian—are well constructed, even as their religiosity and betrayal causes them to act more as villains than helpful authority figures. The principal's talk of Adrian's sexuality as a disease is sad and frustrating but ultimately mirrors the real life experiences of too many young people in real life. One character who manages to restore faith in adults within the book is Adrian's aunt, who left the church many years ago, but who is supportive of Adrian for a time. In some ways, I do wish the book had been longer than a mere 124 pages so readers could experience even more character development over the course of Adrian's story.

      Some readers may feel that the religious aspects of the text are overpowering, perhaps overly didactic even, but the book does reflect the experiences of many who grow up gay in conservative religious households. I should also note that there is a scene in which the teens are in a bar, and while this may seem wrong to a North American sensibility, the book was originally written in French—now translated by David Homel—and is set in France where such an event would likely not be uncommon.

      The ending remains open, which I'm sure some will find frustrating, but I think it allows readers to make up their own resolution(s). Ultimately, the book is a bittersweet examination of a relationship that flickers to life for a brief moment in time, leaving readers to ponder the delicate threads of Adrian's life in order to see where hope may eventually lie. That being said, this is an appealing graphic novel with many positive qualities, not the least of which are the sweet and intimate moments within the text, as well as the style of illustration itself. Adrian and the Tree of Secrets is an important work that deserves to end up in the hands of youth who feel different, who identify as gay, or who just appreciate a simple but delicately rendered story.


Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He is currently a PhD student in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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ISSN 1201-9364
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