Jeremy, the protagonist of Look Straight Ahead by Elaine Will, is your typical teenager. To escape typical teenage pressures from his harsh parents and bullies at school, Jeremy draws.
Both Jeremy and the reader become immersed in his art. Jeremy walks through his drawings, interacting with the spaces and characters he created. At first, Jeremy’s art is an escape from the real world, but then the two spaces begin leaking into one another. As Will depicts Jeremy’s descent into mental illness, his art becomes difficult to distinguish from the real world.
Eventually, Jeremy’s difficulty in differentiating between reality and fantasy sends him to a psychiatric hospital, where he is heavily medicated. The medications prevent him from drawing, but do not allow him to fully recover. As Jeremy struggles with his illness, he cycles in and out of the hospital. Although Will does not focus the narrative upon Jeremy’s parents, we still see their long journey toward accepting Jeremy’s illness (which is implied to be schizophrenia). After Jeremy’s long struggle, Look Straight Ahead‘s positive ending is abrupt.
Will, who won a Xeric Award for Look Straight Ahead when it was in webcomic form, depicts Jeremy’s struggle with mental illness so clearly that the reader also has trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. The book’s winter setting emphasizes Jeremy’s bleak feelings. I particularly liked how, while Jeremy and his fantasies feel fully developed and real, reality feels flat and more unreal. This is a poignant and clear story of what it is like to descend into madness and how much work it is to come back out of it.
Look Straight Ahead
by Elaine Will
Cuckoo’s Nest Press, 2013