Oxygen Mask: A Graphic Novel

Authored by Jason Reynolds
Illustrated by Jason Griffin
Published by Faber & Faber

Tagged , , , ,

in through the nose’

‘out through the mouth’

Three breaths, three long sentences that take the reader through a poetic stream of consciousness, married with stunning artwork, through defining, challenging, real world experiences. As the dedication reads,

‘For everyone we lost and everything we learned in the strangest year of our lives – 2020.’

The events in 2020 impacted across the world. The incessant barrage of news that came at everyone, which, for some, became an obsession with the news, stopped us looking at the ‘small stuff,’ the ‘stuff that makes you smile’. This graphic novel delivers in much the same way. You must keep reading it, but each part is big. As a reader, you need to come up for each breath; to think, reflect, remember, and move forwards. It is so powerful that it is hard to put down until you have taken all three breaths. The intertwining of the prose with the striking images encourages the reader to go deeper, think harder, and learn.

It poses the question: Who or what is your oxygen mask? It helps us to realise that in fact we have more than we thought. If we’re lucky, they surround us and breathe life into us.

You will likely want to return to this book as there is much to take in. The artwork is as important to this novel as the words. The use of colour, space, texture, and mixed mediums reflects the complex nature of the matters it is addressing. It is bold and brave in its layout, where some pages are left both wordless and almost black. The result is a captivating experience with an important message to share.

This novel is well-placed in secondary to open discourse about the significant issues posed throughout this graphic novel. ‘Is anyone still here?’ can be found at the end of the novel. A discussion between Reynolds and Griffin which is just as illuminating where they discuss the writing process and the freedom afforded Griffin to place words with images as felt right.

Reynolds refers to the malleable nature of language:

We can be rigid with it, and sometimes that’s important, but we can also be playful with it and let it take on different meanings depending on where each word lands in relation to the next. It’s not much different than painting, jazz, or even friendship.’

This clearly invites readers to go back and explore the choices Griffin made and one’s own choices we might have made.