BookBin2012: The Silence of Our Friends

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I actually finished Mark Long’s graphic novel The Silence of Our Friends a while ago. However, I wanted to say so much about this novel…and I could never really find the time to write down all the thoughts that I had and all the social commentary I wanted to examine. Things have been so tumultuous lately…but with every day that passed that I didn’t get the chance to write about this, the more heavily it preyed upon me. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized that it had become something so much more than just another BookBin review, and that the proportions to which it had grown mentally were now making it nearly insurmountable.

That’s not what should have happened. That’s not what I ever intended. So, let’s reel it back and start with something simple. Here is the book’s description:

As the civil rights struggle heats up in Texas, two families—one white, one black—find common ground.

This semi-autobiographical tale is set in 1967 Texas, against the backdrop of the fight for civil rights. A white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the suburbs and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston’s color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.

The Silence of Our Friends follows events through the point of view of young Mark Long, whose father is a reporter covering the story. Semi-fictionalized, this story has its roots solidly in very real events. With art from the brilliant Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) bringing the tale to heart-wrenching life, The Silence of Our Friends is a new and important entry in the body of civil rights literature.

I don’t really want to talk about the artwork this time, although I do think that choosing to tell this story via a visual outlet rather than just straight text was a well-considered decision. I also agree with this review: Nate Powell’s stark black and white renderings increased the ultimate impact of this story in poignant and, I believe, significant ways.

I also don’t really want to talk about the writing. I will say this: Long does a remarkable job of telling a story that could have become mired down or distracted from delivering a focused, even if semi-fictionalized, account of a moment from the era of Southern desegregation. He remains on point throughout, which I think made this all the more powerful. Sometimes truth in its simplest, most straight-forward form can be more impactful than anything sentimentally glorified.

And that was what resonated most with me from this novel: The fact that I was reading something that was, for the most part, not fictionalized. It was a small sampling of truth from a point in American history that I still oftentimes have difficulty understanding. Locking people out of mainstream society and the benefits it carries simply because they are different.

It’s not something unique to American history, although it is sadly inseparable from any honest telling of our founding and continued existence. Truthfully, though, it’s woven into the fabric of any country’s history, in different forms, different prejudices, different abuses, different retributions. Oppression of any kind, based solely on the fact that we are born different.

We are all born different. This is not a crime. This is something to be celebrated, to be appreciated. If it cannot be completely understood, the attempt should at least be made. Repression, oppression, punishment, enslavement, or worse? These are not the answers, and if you think they are? You’re asking the wrong questions.

This book stirred so many thoughts and reactions…things that I wanted to discuss, debate, argue. Things that I ultimately feared would end up devolving into misunderstanding or emotional bias. Logic dictates; emotion escalates. Spock seems smarter and smarter all the time, Bones.

So I will leave it at this: I think Mark Long does an exemplary job of shining light into a moment from a time that continues to affect society in ways we need to better understand. His novel has the ability to open up discourse that, if we choose to make it so, could lead to all variety of possibilities.

Final Verdict: I have added this graphic novel to my wish list, and I do believe I shall be perusing my local library for more literature on the subject of desegregation and civil rights.