The theme of itinerant mothers and the children they drag with them, willfully or not, runs through both Rebecca Donner’s first novel, SUNSET TERRACE, and her new graphic novel, BURNOUT. The two works have more than that in common, with their exploration of the wondering minds of children whose restlessness leads to trouble and even the backdrop of restaurants and diners, where the mothers work. The books part ways there, however, and just as she did in her excellent debut, Donner crafts a hauntingly evocative story in BURNOUT.
The story’s narrator is Danni, a teenage girl who moves to Elkridge, Oregon, with her mom, Wynona, after her father deserts them. They move in with Hank, owner of a local hunting lodge, and his teenage son, Haskell. Hank is a man with many demons: alcohol, violence, the inability to manage his own business and poor parenting skills top the list. Wynona’s dependence on Hank and her refusal to see the damage she is doing to herself and to her daughter by staying with him are deftly written. Donner never plays a scene for pity or to toy with emotions, a welcome relief.
BURNOUT succeeds because it capitalizes on the strengths of its art form. We get to know the supporting characters, including Danni’s best friend, a hard-rocking math whiz named Vivian, through effectively brief glimpses. Donner wisely avoids thought balloons for everyone, giving us Danni’s innermost feelings only in the narration. Danni’s initial repulsion toward Haskell soon gives way to a crush and an intense need to learn where he goes when he sneaks out each night, and herein lies the crux of this highly readable graphic novel’s plot. How Danni gets pulled into a world she knows little about and learns that she is willing to do anything for the boy she loves --- even if it means sacrificing the most important friendship she has --- is an intense journey. Is Danni wiser than her mother, or is she doomed to repeat the same patterns?
Donner is brilliantly supported by the nuanced artwork of Inaki Miranda and the beautifully rendered shadings of Eva de la Cruz. Miranda has a knack for capturing fluid human movements and natural poses, giving BURNOUT a cinematic quality perfect for its tone. His sense of perspective and his constantly shifting angles and point of view flesh out the story without ever intruding on it.
With a character as flawed yet appealing as Danni as a guide, BURNOUT is a welcome journey through the psyche of women in love with the wrong kind of guy and the myriad ways people can convince themselves to do anything. Ultimately, BURNOUT is a nicely taut story of the perils of desire and how people trap themselves in situations they should have left long ago.
Reviewed by John Hogan on December 23, 2010