Sabrina disappears, her sister Sandra grieves, and her boyfriend Teddy effectively checks out of the world. This is how Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina begins. Teddy then meets up with an old friend, Calvin, who takes him in, lets him sleep for days, and feeds him. When a graphic videotape of Sabrina’s violent end surfaces, it sends Teddy into a tailspin as he takes to heart more and more of the conspiracy theories he has been listening to on the radio. Calvin continues to work in his bland Air Force job while debating whether to stay and take a promotion or move so he can be with his daughter. Then, Calvin chases a cat. Yes, you read that right. He chases a cat. Put all together in these brief sentences, it sounds as if this graphic novel is quite boring, but that is not the case.

The pacing is slow and meticulous, yes. The artwork is neat and tidy with a very limited, dull color palette. But the entire novel is fraught with tension while somehow remaining devoid of emotion. It’s as if a wall exists between the reader and the characters. You can see their faces and their actions, but their expressions—nearly always the same from panel to panel, with tiny dots for eyes and thin lines for mouths and eyebrows—leave you wondering what they are thinking or feeling. You know the subject matter—kidnappings, brutal murders, and deep, unyielding grief and depression—should evoke big emotions in you and in the characters, but somehow all I was left with was a feeling of anxiety-riddled numbness. One notable exception to this are the panels with Sabrina’s sister Sandra. Her grief is palpable. The whole effect is chilling, and it is no surprise that this graphic novel was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Drnaso uses a limited color palette of muted hues, mostly primary and secondary colors. There are a few notable exceptions. For instance, when Teddy dreams of his last night with Sabrina, Drnaso uses a black background and colored lines only (no fill-in). He uses this same method again at the end of the novel when Calvin is having a nightmare that mixes together everything he’s been through in the novel.

Drnaso keeps the panels uniform, multiple equally sized and shaped squares, for most of the novel, but occasionally he breaks things up with a half-page panel or a few larger panels next to smaller ones. There seems to be an occasional connection between the small panels containing banal statements and the larger panels dealing in some way with larger emotions.

As previously stated, this graphic novel, published in May of 2018, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It would make an excellent addition to any academic or public library. The nuanced, adult content makes this best-suited for adult graphic novel collections. Overall, a well-executed and timely graphic novel I would recommend to all adults.

Sabrina
By Nick Drnaso
ISBN: 9781770463165
Drawn and Quarterly, 2018
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

  • Raeleigh

    Past Reviewer

    Raeleigh graduated with an MA in Music Theory and an MLS from the University of North Texas. She currently works as a cataloging librarian at the University of Arkansas, where her primary responsibilities include overseeing the cataloging of theses and dissertations. When she escapes from the confines of the cataloging world, she consumes all things nerdy. An entire room dedicated to Star Wars collecting? Check. A personal library full of everything from the classics to the newest YA fantasy to a slew of teasingly diverse comics and graphic novels? Check, check, and check. When not reading and reviewing on her personal blog, RaeleighReads (raeleighreads.com), she is busy finishing her own witchy series, Gift of Flames; cheering on her favorite eSports team, Cloud9; and posting way too many pictures of her dogs, Sherlock and Adler, to her Instagram.

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