Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell

I went to Borders today to browse the graphic novels section and stumbled across this. I pulled it off the shelf and read the back…story about a young girl with schizophrenia. In graphic novel format. Sounded like my cup of tea, so I bought it. Well now I wish I would’ve just bought everything that Nate Powell has written. Swallow Me Whole was such an interesting and human story that truly takes all of the taboos and stereotypes away from schizophrenia and as a mental health advocate I just want to hand it to everyone.

Ruth comes from a family with a history of schizophrenia. Her grandmother, who is ill and unable to care for herself, is living with her, and shares her mental illness. Part of Ruth’s schizophrenia is an obsession and a compulsion with bugs, with locusts in particular. She collects them and keeps them in glass jars in her room. She also has auditory hallucinations causing her to watch where she walks all the time so that she doesn’t step on them. You can imagine how this affects her life. Her brother, Perry, has his own hallucinations, but they are not as extreme as Ruth’s…he’s able to control them slightly more than she can. Her parents are mostly understanding, but it’s stressful for them as well.

What I love about the way that Nate Powell portrays Ruth is that he never paints her as “crazy”. We’re shown Ruth as a person, first and foremost. A person that just happens to have hallucinations. She’s a person WITH schizophrenia. She’s NOT just a schizophrenic. I also love the fact that this is in graphic form and that we can see what schizophrenia may look like. I’ve never experienced hallucinations before, and while I certainly feel sorry for those that do and don’t wish that life on myself or anyone else, I find it intriguing and often wonder what it’s like.

Swallow Me Whole is a book that’s full of so many emotions. So so many. But it’s ultimately a beautiful book. It lifts up your hopes and then crushes them. And then lifts them up a little bit more..and then…well, you get the picture. From what I’ve seen of the illness itself at the hospital I work at, that’s fairly accurate. It’s filled with moments of humor, it’s filled with sadness. The art is really quite amazing! I didn’t know what I thought about it at first, but by the time I finished it, I really loved it! It’s quite different than anything else I’ve seen. After reading this one, I’ll certainly be on the look out for more of Nate Powell’s work. He’s an author I hadn’t heard of before, but one I’ll be following from here on out.


22 Responses

  1. I read this book last year (I went through this GN splurge for about a month where I read nothing but GN!). This one was pretty great wasn’t it? I loved how they portrayed the mental illnesses. Schizophrenia, as a subject, has always interested me the most. And I really dug Rogers approach on the subject. Hmmm….course, Rogers is just pretty much my hero (or one of them, for sure!)

  2. Me wants. Me wants very, very much.

  3. When I went shopping for Blankets yesterday, I saw this and I knew you’d mentioned it to me earlier in the day, so I picked it up. Of course, it was $20 and I was already buying Blankets and I Kill Giants, so I really dithered on it. I ended up sitting down (we went to a different Borders with an amazing GN section and chairs lined up all over to sit and read at!) and reading the first 10 pages or so. I was really confused in that time, but i was trying to hurry and take care of the boys, too, so in the end I decided to wait and try it from the library. Assuming my library has it…and I check, and no, it doesn’t. God my library is pathetic about graphic novels. Well I’ll just have to put it on my paperback swap wishlist, I guess.

  4. Between you and Ana, you find such fantastic graphic novels. This one looks fabulous.

  5. I thought this was just ok. I didn’t get any emotional feelings from it at all. As someone who deals with mental issues myself, I couldn’t find the point of the story other than to say “hey, this is what it feels like to go crazy”. But as someone else said to me, perhaps that simply is the point.


  6. Gosh, you and Ana are going to make me the biggest GN convert EVER. If only for the pretty pictures, and nothing else 😉 I really like memoirs in GN format. I think that’s just how they should be done from now on!

  7. I’ve wanted to read this since I saw Nate Powell at the FOB last year. So glad to hear it’s good.

  8. This book sounds gorgeous. Jealous that you still have Borders, think nearly all of them here have shut down now 😦

  9. I’ve almost ordered this so many times!! Next time it ends up in my cart I will for sure, though.

  10. Ooh, looks like you’ve found a gem.

  11. Like Ana, I’ve almost ordered this so many times. I debated between this and Blankets for a while back in December, and while I’m (obviously) really glad I chose Blankets, now I know that this one would have been worth it too. I’ll have to get it next time.

  12. I want to read this! My parents are both therapists so I’m rather cranky about the dearth of good, layered characters with mental illness in media – I am always always up for a book that deals with mental illness WELL. Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. Christina, So you’ve read other stuff by him? I would really love to! I had never even heard of him before, but this one really was fantastic. A great look at mental illness!

    Debi, I think you’d really enjoy this one! It’s simply a look at what mental illness is like from the eye of the beholder. Very well done!

    Amanda, I’d definitely rate Blankets over this one, so you made the right choice there 😉 But this one is certainly worth reading at some point in time and I think you’ll really enjoy it!! And it’s presented so neat! I love the cloth cover. Just a great book to have.

    Vivienne, I was really excited about finding this one myself because I hadn’t heard anything about it before and it’s right up my alley! I was all proud of myself for finding this one :p Hope you try it out!

    Nicola, I didn’t know you had read this one! I really liked it…I think that was the point of this one…just to sort of say “this is how it is” and show you. And I think it worked as that. I’ll be clicking over to your review in a sec!

    Aarti, yay!! I’m thrilled to make you a GN convert 😀 It really is such a great medium for any type of story, a fact that you’ll learn soon enough 😉 I should just start mailing you books with post it notes that say “read this” :p

    Amy, Ooooh, did you get to meet him? I bet he’s a really awesome guy! Everything I’ve read about him so far sounds really neat. Great book!

    Katrina, It is quite sad that all of the Borders are closing. I hope the ones here don’t. We have a really great one that used to be a funeral home! I sure hope that one doesn’t go under!

    Nymeth, Yes, yes! You must get it!! It was so awesome 😀 I loved it!

    Michelle, It really was a little gem 🙂 I enjoyed it!

    Lu, Next time, you should order it. Like I told Amanda, I’d definitely rate Blankets above this one, but I’d rate Blankets above just about any other GN out there. This one really was fantastic though…Check it out some time 🙂

    Jenny, Yeah, there’s a serious LACK of characters with mental illness in literature that are portrayed well…they’re usually just batty as hell. This one is different. I think he gets it…did a great job here! I think you’d enjoy it 🙂

  14. This sounds very, very Chris but not very Bookfool. And, yet, it interests me. Amanda says her library is pathetic about graphic novels. Mine has none. Boo to my library. I took a picture of the empty bottom shelves in the YA section, last week. Maybe I should post it and make a few people choke. LOL

  15. First Blankets now this! You’re adding more books to my TBR list! Fingers crossed that my library has it.

  16. This looks good. I am glad you enjoyed it!

  17. Huh. The book I saw didn’t have a cloth cover. It was hardbound with a rough cover, but not cloth. At least, I don’t think it was…

  18. Sounds awesome. Another excellent example how graphic novel is used as a medium.

  19. Wow, this does sound great. I’m so glad my library has a copy too, because my graphic novel spending is out of control 😛

  20. This grabbed me right away because of the art, and the subject matter intrigues me even more. I just put it on interlibrary loan.

  21. I know next to nothing about schizophrenia so I’d very much like to read this! it looks great too.

  22. […] Stuff As Dreams Are Made On (thanks for the recommendation!) Reading Thru the Night […]

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