The very first giant, Ur, was the result of a union between the earth and sky. When he became too lonely from being the only of his kind, he tore himself apart, creating a group of other giants: swamp giants, mountain giants, frost giants, and, worst of all, titans. They’re unstoppable.
We know this because Barbara Thorson explains it just so. Barbara is waiting for the giants to come, at which time she will fend them off with her deadly hammer. It’s tough work, preparing for an oncoming invasion and being the sole person tasked with killing them when they arrive.
Barbara is a unique fifth grader, even aside from training to kill giants. She wears giant bunny ears, avoids talking to most of her classmates, has regular conversations with fairies, calls her P.E. teacher a bull dyke, and even slaps the school psychologist. She’s antisocial and proud of it, considering almost all the people she encounters to be stupid and annoying.
Only fellow student Sophia manages to crack Barbara’s thick shell, acquiring a place of trust and friendship that no one else ever has --- or even tried to attain. The sweetness of the friendship is genuine, as are most of the relationships in I KILL GIANTS. Whether Barbara is dealing with her principal, her psychologist, or her sister (who is raising Barbara and her rarely seen brother), and even when the dialogue feels ready-made to fit a movie starring a sassy protagonist, the words have the ring of truth to them. Even when writer Joe Kelly pushes the dialogue to the brink, he pulls back just in time to ensure believability. Better yet, he sends in surprises to usher the story along in unexpected paths (anchoring it as he goes with some fun allusions; my favorite being one of the best movie quotes ever: “No fighting in the war room!”).
All along, we know this story is headed somewhere; we just don’t know where at first. Joe Kelly holds his cards close to his vest for a good part of the story --- even scribbling through lines of his own dialogue to obscure what’s really going on in Barbara’s life --- but he pulls the curtain back just in time, confirming our suspicions without making us wait too long for the satisfaction of knowing, after all this, just what is going on with this character we’ve become so attached to.
That attachment is perhaps the best trick in I KILL GIANTS, because it comes about so subtly and effectively. Like JM Ken Nimura’s frenetic but pitch-perfect art, Barbara’s personality is wild, jagged and impossible not to get engrossed in. By the time we’ve finished our journey with Barbara, we’re stronger for the experience and so is she.
I KILL GIANTS is easily accessible for teens (the aforementioned bull dyke outburst is about the harshest the language ever gets, and the violence is frequent enough but never graphic), but it’s a true gem for adults as well. It, like Barbara, is lovely, wonderful, and one of a kind.
Reviewed by John Hogan on May 26, 2009
I Kill Giants