Guest Review by Erin Partridge @2littlewings
One of the really powerful things about graphic medicine is the format allows for telling multiple layers of a story at the same time—the words, the images, perspectives from multiple characters are all included. In this graphic novel, the sensory experiences or lack thereof are included as well. Our lived experiences, particularly experiences involving medical and mental health, are more often than not complex, multi-layered experiences. This telling of the intertwined lives of Helen Keller and her tutor Annie Sullivan uses presence and absence of the written word and presence and absence of visual detail to help the reader empathize with their stories. The close-up view of their hands and the drawn out ASL letters bring us into some of the confusion and frustration of their interactions. This choices in telling the story Lambert made encourages the readers to feel that we are learning along with Helen and teaching along with Annie. Other distinctions in the color, line quality, and lettering help the reader switch easily between flashbacks, current narrative, written letters, and the experiences of both Helen and Annie. Beyond the powerful narrative, aesthetically, it is a beautiful book with a readable and pleasing flow to it.
Though some of the most powerful panels in the book are when Helen is learning that everything in the world has a name and when she is learning to put words into sentences, it is about more than Helen’s story. The flashbacks to Annie’s childhood put her interactions with Helen into context. This book can be a means to engage in conversations about how and why we enter the helping professions—the experiences from our own lives that enable us to be empathic and effective in our work with students, patients, and clients. It also has an opening to have dialogue about plagiarism, professional practices, and power dynamics in academia and healthcare; who has ownership over processes and how do we tell people’s stories?
Erin Partridge, PhD, ATR-BC is a board-certified, registered art therapist and researcher based in California. She is interested in the use of images to express our experiences and the use of images as a form of data.