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Black Hole

Charles Burns (author and illustrator)

> Review by Carolyn Marcille

Charles Burns’ wildly subversive Black Hole inverts traditional expectations for stories about teens by delivering a world where your deepest secrets are as visible as the nose on your face. The story posits that your first sexual experience literally mutates you into something almost unrecognizable. The mutation functions allegorically, standing in for the alienation teenagers in Burns’s era experienced as a result of experimentation with music, drugs and new ideas. It was these experiences that led adults to view teenagers not as individuals discovering autonomy, but as something monstrous to be feared and reviled. Burns’s externalizations of what are usually internal changes make Black Hole a potent commentary on how your teenage years change not only the ways in which you understand yourself, but how you are perceived by others. The fascinating and labyrinthine illustrations guarantee that it is impossible to look away from the page; however, the remarkableness of Black Hole comes not from the queasily beautiful depictions of teenagers with extra mouths, tear away skin or graphically leaking pustules. It comes from the reader’s ability to emphasize with them. Black Hole reminds us that while the “simple” act of growing up is a universal fact, anyone navigating the difficult landscape of adolescence surely deserves a generous amount of understanding, monstrous appearance or not.

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