I often wonder why adults forget what it’s like to be children, and how they can feel comfortable inflicting on younger generations the same kind of abuses they suffered, like being called “stupid” by an adult, or being told that what you have to say is not — and will never be — important. If you think you might have let your memories of what it’s like to be a pre-teen kid slip away, pick up The Greatest of Marlys by Lynda Barry.
Centered on three siblings and their eponymous cousin, The Greatest of Marlys recounts the trials and tribulations of this small cluster of tweens and their families. Barry weaves deftly between outright comedy and the pangs of heartbreak, much the same as life itself does.
No part of The Greatest of Marlys feels fictional. Reading Barry’s collection of — mostly 4-panel — comics is what I imagine recovering a memory must be like. Here is your brother’s mold-growing project, there is your teenage sister’s diary, over in the corner is the cousin with family problems that no one really seems to talk about.
Speaking of cousins, let’s talk about Marlys. Barry’s Marlys is either that annoying kid you knew in 5th grade, or she’s you. There is no in-between, although she could, I suppose, be both. For me, she is me. She loves the spotlight, dreams of sharing her knowledge and insight, and sometime makes off-the-wall assumptions, but her pragmatism doesn’t let many of her failures get her down.
The Greatest of Marlys is a darker, grittier Peanuts, in which the children don’t cleanly observe the morals they uncover. The result isn’t pastoral, but the gritty realism of blue-collar childhood, masterfully delivered by the author.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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Image Credit: Lynda Barry