A mysterious disease is going around among a population of teens in the suburbs of Seattle in the 1970s. A disease that causes all sorts of body horror, such as growing a tail or horns or any number of physical anomalies. We follow a group of these teens who contract the disease as they go into hiding and try to navigate life with their new disfigurements.
This book is insane. Which makes it difficult to talk about, because it’s very insane. There is a linear story here involving some core characters who catch the disease and start going through changes, but there are also drug trips and weird nightmares and lots of existential stuff to make for a veritable playground of themes and symbolism and depth. Though if that isn’t your bag, going into crazy analysis, I want to make it clear that this book works gorgeously at surface level. The artwork is beautiful, the characters are engaging, and the story is page-turning.
As for themes and symbols, the obvious place to start is within the idea of being a teenager and the natural changes one goes through. Here, it’s puberty with a case of the twisted, and while the story makes clear this isn’t normal on any level, it feels like a story about puberty taken up to eleven. All that awkwardness that is just part of growing up becomes hellish, horror story stuff. It doesn’t always feel that far from the truth, as some kids are ostracized for their differences, try to create a sub-group of peers as strange as them to fit in somewhere, though it’s all taken to an extreme.
For a story that is very bombastic in its subject matter, it’s very introspective. Characters narrate their lives, their worries, their hallucinations and dreams. You’re in their heads, which gives it that literary, character-driven appeal without being in the least pretentious. It’s graphic, but it doesn’t shock so much as simmer. I loved this experience entirely. And have I mentioned the astounding, beautifully clean-lined artwork?