Book Review: Moose by Max de Radigues
I saw this graphic novel show up in the home feed for one of my friends on Goodreads. She interacts with a fantastic variety of readers, and consistently reads interesting things. Her summary mentioned the story line was about bullying, but it was her allusion to an ending that left her with a dilemma she could not resolve that piqued my interest.
I read this graphic novel in one sitting. The story is as sombre as the illustrations drawn entirely in black and white. I was hoping I could use this graphic novel with my middle school students, but it contains mature content that I doubt would be approved for supplementary use. However, I will pass my copy on to our school counselors to hear their thoughts.
To begin, the examples of bullying are accurate examples. The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions. The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to ‘cause’ the bullying.”
In this graphic novel, the antagonist Jason derives sick satisfaction from his cruel power plays over Joe. Jason repeatedly taunts Joe with his words and actions. From destroying Joe’s property to repeatedly physically assaulting Joe to sexually abusing him, Jason embodies evil. The bullying descriptions are difficult to read.
Jason’s motive seems to be rooted in his homophobia. At one point, he tells Joe that his family should be locked up.
Joe has two moms who clearly love him, but are unsure how to encourage their introverted teenage son. They have no idea why Joe avoids taking the bus to school.
Another adult, Joe’s male teacher, is equally clueless. He notices Joe’s habitual tardiness and offers to help the teen. But then he doesn’t actually listen. Joe shares with him how he likes to walk to school every day because he sees all these different animals in the woods. That morning he saw a moose! Joe admits that he loses track of the time and that’s why he’s tardy.
The teacher misidentifies the danger as the woods when the real danger is the bully Jason.
Later, the same teacher hears an altercation in the hallway and pops his head out of his classroom to find Jason and Joe on the floor. Jason claims that he is helping a dizzy Joe to the nurse and Joe denies being dizzy. The teacher’s only action is to separate the boys by sending Jason back to his class and Joe on to the nurse.
While separating the boys is a solid instinctual move, the teacher really needs to do more. Talk to the school counselor. Talk to Joe’s moms. Ask other teachers what they’ve witnessed and be alert for future instances. As a teacher, I know that there is so much that I miss, but when my gut tells me that something seems off, I share my suspicions with team members so we can all be on the look out. Some students are perfectly willing to report bullying, but others do remain silent.
This graphic novel follows Joe’s story, so it’s possible that his teacher may have said something. But I don’t think that’s what the author is implying. Joe’s next stop is the nurse’s office where Sarah bandages him up and wonders how he has hidden being bullied for so long from his parents and other teachers.
Here Joe is portrayed as a typical teen trying to be cool with the school nurse who he clearly has a crush on. He jokes that he might have to tell other adults that she smokes, but then he retracts the comment.
Joe stays in the nurse’s office until the end of the day and attends after-school detention. While he’s walking home through the woods, several events occur that bring about the ambiguous ending.
I’m hoping to pass this graphic novel around with several co-workers to hear their thoughts on the complicated morally ambiguous ending that I, too, could not fully resolve. This book is definitely one that people will want to talk about after finishing the story.