CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 33 . . . . April 27, 2018
In many ways, Jeremy Knowles is a typical Canadian teenager; he attends high school and secretly harbors a crush on Erin, his best friend's girlfriend. Jeremy is a budding artist who escapes the bullying he endures at school through his art. Jeremy's uniqueness lies in that fact that he suffers from hallucinations, psychosis and delusional behaviour. His mental health issues lead him to some extreme responses to the school bullying, erratic illogical behaviour, and the subsequent loss of friendships and relationships. Jeremy believes that God is speaking to him and sending him signs through Kit Kat wrappers; he hears voices in his head; and he becomes paranoid about other people and food and water. The breaking point comes when Jeremy's father finds him lying on the ground outside in the wintertime. Jeremy's parents' ignorance about mental health leads to a breaking down of his familial relationships. Jeremy's increasingly psychotic behaviours finally result in his father's committing him to a mental health facility where he eventually finds the help and medication he needs.
Elaine M. Will has admitted that Look Straight Ahead is a somewhat biographical story and that she chose to gender swap and create a male main character in order to help her to write about such a difficult personal topic. This graphic novel tackles the important yet sensitive topic of mental health disorders head on and in such a way that it is accessible to all regardless of age, experience with, or knowledge about mental health. The dialogue is authentic and does not shy away from the reality of living in a delusional world. The story unfolds from Jeremy's first person perspective, and the reader sees what he is seeing in his mind. As Jeremy descends into his hallucinations, the style of the illustrations follows suit, spiraling into chaotic scenes filled with devils, disappearing limbs and scenes of fire and mayhem. The novel features panels, or boxes, with speech bubbles and was originally published as an online web comic. The illustrations are mainly black and white and comic style with a few sporadic coloured panels. Will also placed puzzle pieces in the gutters or spaces between the panels, pieces which ultimately all come together at the end of the book.
This unabashed look at mental health from the perspective of a teenager in the throes of illness is very moving and inspiring in its authenticity and hopeful conclusion. The graphic novel comic format makes this sensitive topic accessible to all and showcases Will's incredible artistic talent. The mirroring of the illustrations to Jeremy's state of mind is an inspired touch. Recommended by the Canadian Mental Health Association in Saskatchewan, Look Straight Ahead is an important and timely work that may very well become a classic in the graphic novel genre.
Cate Carlyle is a former elementary teacher currently residing in Halifax, NS, where she is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University.