Last month, I received a great gift: a copy of Mardou’s new graphic novel, Sky in Stereo. Set in 1990s Manchester, England, the novel opens with protagonist Iris explaining how her mother became a Jehovah’s Witness. While her boyfriend remained indifferent, Iris’s mother fell hard for the community and lifestyle the church offered. Eventually, Iris joined, too, and her life revolved around Bible study and wholesome social activities. But as she got older, Iris watched as her female peers married and had kids immediately after high school. Not content to let this path be her fate, Iris rebelled against her mother and the church.
Although she escapes the church, Iris’s post-high school life is anything but easy. She and her boyfriend, John, part ways as university pulls them in different directions. Iris takes a job at Burger Loco and meets Glen, an attractive free spirit with a dark side. Struggling to assert her independence while still living with her conservative parents, Iris’s search for freedom leads her on a psychedelic adventure around the city.
Portions of the story could benefit from a bit more editing. Iris and John allude to some characters who never make an appearance; what is the purpose of including them? The introduction of Iris’s drug use seems abrupt; one minute, she’s mourning her breakup and then next, she’s stoned in a car. And why does Glen, her burger joint coworker, call her Eyeball? What drives him down a path to harder drugs? In addition to raising unanswered questions, parts of the story tend to ramble. Aspects of the story line, like Glen and Iris’s stroll through a cemetery, don’t push the narrative along and feel like afterthoughts.
In spite of these aspects, Mardou pens a compelling story that encourages readers to learn more. Anyone who survived puberty can identify with Iris’s confusion and frustration as she navigates post-grad life and come into her own. When, in the end, Iris’s journey takes a worrisome turn, Mardou’s storytelling and illustrations elicit genuine concern from the reader. With volume two already out, I’m eager to see where Iris’s story leads.