The fact that their fathers are soldiers in Iraq preoccupies the three male protagonists of this tale living in a small town in Oregon. The friends are haunted by their fathers’ absences, their fears for their fathers’ safety and their own spiraling anger and behavior when trying to control their anxieties. Based on a short story by Benjamin Percy that had been named one of the Best American Short Stories of 2006 before being adapted into a film script by James Ponsoldt, Refresh Refresh, as a graphic novel by Danica Novgorodoff, is a compelling read on its own merits. Novgorodoff, while staying true to the original versions of the story, adapted the story by structuring her telling around three consecutive seasons in illuminating the increasing violence of the games and actions of Josh, Cody, and Gordon that culminate in a harsh and gut wrenching and circular finale.
The phrase “refresh, refresh” refers to the anxious waiting for an email from the various fathers by their sons. When the emails do not arrive when expected, the tension increases as does the lack of patience in the boys and the level of violence keeps accelerating. The setting is bleak, the characters unhappy and disconnected, and the storyline disturbing since the only way the boys can see to cope with their situation is to increase their dependence on fighting, drinking and carousing. Novgorodoff’s choice of color, panels, and focus on her characters successfully melds with her constant contrast between the natural world outside of the town boundaries and the bleakness of the lives of the boys and their families. Particularly evocative are the green-grey watercolor panels towards the end of the book, depicting the shadowy aspect of the fighting overseas. This is not a comfortable read, perhaps creating more questions than answers, but one that will generate countless conversations on a number of interrelated issues.