Friday, February 25, 2011

Here, Child, Finish Your Nothing

by Suzy Lee

New York : Seven Footer Kids, 2003

Mirror, by Suzy Lee, is a very simple, elegant wordless book that, if read properly, will trigger an existential crisis (or philosophical breakthrough) in readers of any age. If your child is too young for Sartre, but old enough to feel the burden of consequence and self-determination, then this is the perfect introduction to instill that lasting sense of angst, guilt and self-doubt.

Despite the austerity of the artwork, there is whimsy in its pages, but by the last page, all such feelings of merriment are dashed. The cover encapsulates this dynamic perfectly; the girl, facing away from her reflection, may have a hint of a smile on her lips, but it never quite reaches her eyes. There is a sense that she is disconnected from herself, perhaps dissatisfied with the stark world in which she has been drawn, even as she plays with her own medium. Of course, this could all be projection...

"We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are..."

One of the most interesting things about this book is the way the book itself is part of the unspoken narrative. The "mirror" is actually the crease between pages. It is no simple mirror, however, as the girl is not simple reflected in its pages. At one point, the girl mischievously moves into the crease, emerging with her reflection facing in the same direction she is. Of course, we all know what generally happens when little girls walk into mirrors.

"If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company."

In its way, the artwork in Mirror is sweet, and the girl's interactions with her own reflection are the product of playful innocence. Don't be fooled, though. In the last few pages, the girl becomes annoyed with her reflected self, and in a fit manages to push her other, knocking down the mirror (Lee's work here is brilliant, by the way) and shattering it. Spoiler alert: the last page consists of the little girl curled in on herself, and you can almost hear her sobbing into her arms. It came as a shock, I have to admit; though we review horror for children, I have rarely seen a story for kids with such an unrelentingly depressing ending. I have to say, I respect it.

So, if you're ready to crush your child's innocence, or they're already showing a predilection for German expressionism and long-sleeve black turtlenecks, this is a great book. Just know what your child may grow into:

"We are our choices."

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