As The Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman. Iron Circus Comics, 2017. 9781945820069. 272pp.
“Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she’s spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp.” (from the back of the book)
Sounds like the setup for a message-y, clumsy after school special -type graphic novel, but this totally isn’t. And that’s clear right away when Charlie feels weird when she’s being dropped off at camp — she talks to her parents, and her mom gives her the option of going home or calling to get picked up when she wants. It’s terrific. It’s also soon clear that God told Charlie this is where she needed to go, that Charlie is waiting for God to speak to her again, and that she’s probably going to keep waiting.
Charlie is one of six girls in her group at a girls outdoor adventure backpacking camp led by Bee and her eighteen-year-old daughter Penny (who Charlie seems immediately smitten with). They will follow the path of feminist pioneer Beatrice Tillerson on a 50-mile hike to the women-only shrine she and others created. Once there they will hold some sort of mysterious, secret women’s ceremony that which involves purification “and whitening our souls.” That stops Charlie cold. But (minor spoiler) don’t worry, she talks about it and there isn’t a big come to Jesus moment. The resolution is quiet.
The rest of the book felt like hiking with people I don’t know, and I totally sympathized with Charlie. This would be a nightmare for me: difficult, uncomfortable, moving toward an uncertain goal I’m not sure I even want to reach. But there might also be cool moments: connecting with new people, helping each other toward that common goal, and the overwhelming beauty of nature (and Gillman’s beautiful colored pencil drawings).
Note: This book is certified good by Gene’s wife, Silver, who also enjoyed it.