Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
I did not love this book. Perhaps that is a strange way to begin a defence for a title that I believe, wholeheartedly, should be included in school, academic and public libraries. I did not love it, but I respect it immensely, and it should be read widely.
Chopsticks is a visual narrative. It is not a graphic novel, though there are stylistic elements found in that medium (such as paneling and void space and gutters) that affect the time lapse of reading as a graphic novel might. Instead, I would be more inclined to call Chopsticks a scrapbook narrative, and, quite possibly one of a kind.
Relying more on visual nuances than prose, and more on critical analyses of images and promotional material (pamphlets, posters, scores) than descriptive text, Chopsticks demands a close reading of images to gather both plot and the crucial emotional subtext that drives the story.
Glory Flemming is a prodigy whose life revolves around honing her talent as a young pianist. She is at first, a difficult character for the average teen to relate to. Her days are planned rigidly, as evident from the daily schedule pasted in her scrapbook; she performs around the world in the most celebrated theatres, as the pamphlets from Carnegie Hall can attest. Where readers begin to emphasize WITH Glory is when they realize that the concept of prodigy does not mean only performing classics, rather Glory is so sought after because she blends classical music with contemporary pop. Bit by bit readers begin to see themselves in her. She falls in love with Francisco, the boy next door. She collects trinkets from encounters with him, she doodles, and she daydreams, she texts, she longs for freedom, and she just wants to feel alive. These are the attributes of the story that hook the reader.
What keeps the reader invested, on the other hand, are the clues and nuances inform the deeper intricacies of the book. All is not right with Glory. From the titles of the songs she performs, “Obsession Diabolique”, to the photos of the empty chair which represent a dead mother, it is evident that each photo, drawing, and keepsake are meant to be carefully examined to truly understand Glory’s struggle and subsequent descent from on high. When the reader reaches the end their senses are muddled and they are forced to reflect on each image and each moment of foreshadowing which they have absorbed to truly believe in the interpretive finale of Glory’s story.
Chopsticks is not an easy read. From an outside perspective it may look simple and quick- there are few dialogues and no descriptive prose to muddle over. But it is for this very reason that I believe it presents an opportunity for true critical analysis. Youth and young adults today are savvy in multiple literacies. They are accustomed to reading a variety of texts, often in short hand and prose interspersed with images. They are increasingly reading laterally, no longer requiring left to right, line by line, patterns to interpret information. It is crucially important that libraries that service this demographic collect and maintain resources that speak to the changing literacies these readers engage with.
Chopsticks demands close reading. It combines elements of fiction from plot, character development, figurative language, and multi-literacy reading skills. The book highlights the struggles of talented teens to achieve their goals and the burdens that come from sacrificing too much of one’s self for the sake of perfection. It is a love story and a cry for help. It is blatant as much as it is nuanced, and it is a book that requires a critical lens.
This is a story that deserves to be read by those who already accept evolving literacies, and it is a story that teaches those who are not accepting how to move their reading forward.
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke