Book: Kelly, Joe, and J. M. Ken. Niimura. I Kill Giants. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2010. Print.
Audience: 9th grade and up
Summary: Barbara Thorson, a Dungeons & Dragons-playing fifth grader who carries around a hammer called “Coveleski” inside a heart-shaped purse claims to be a Giant Killer. Barbara is an outcast in her school and is unconcerned anything other than how to defeat giants. She has her own giant killer area on a beach near her home that is her escape from the more pressing reality of her life: her mother is dying. The giants in this graphic novel are metaphors for the struggles in her life, including a band of girl bullies at her school. Barbara also makes an unexpected friend, Sophie, who becomes a key person in the assistance of ultimately defeating the “Giants”, or demons, that haunt and threaten Barbara’s life. Eventually Barbara does come face to face with a devastating Giant that gives her a chance at life or death and to face her realities instead of hiding within them.
Themes: This graphic novel is jam packed with symbolism and themes, however two of the most prevalent are Bullies/Giants and Reality/Fantasy
These two concepts starring as the antagonist in this story are what drives Barbara to act the way she does. Bullies and Giants are what constantly invade Barbara’s life, one on a more realistic level, the other serving as a metaphor for her collective demons in her life. Barbara’s mom is dying of cancer, her father is absent and her twenty-something year old sister is taking care of her and her brother. Barbara refuses to come to terms with her life that is in shambles, so she creates an alternate world for herself where her larger issues come in the form of giants, in which she is training to kill. In this graphic novel, Barbara must come face to face with bullies and giants, dealing with being beaten emotionally and physically by them, and eventually learning to stand up to them.
Although this book is set in a realistic world, Barbara sets herself within her own fantasy. Barbara is a fifth grade girl, in a normal classroom, with family she fights with and a house and even a friend. She even sees the school counselor. All of this seems to be a very realistic story, however Barbara’s alternate universe where there are giants and skeletons in the upstairs room where her mother is and all of the subconscious winged tiny humans that follow her around are not real. Barbara has a very hard time differentiating between what is real and what is fantasy because she cannot come to terms with the fact that her mother is dying.
Connections: I think this graphic novel would be an incredible choice for the classroom. The language is not too difficult, especially for the high school level. The graphics can sometimes be hard to follow, however the main concepts such as bullies/giants, reality/fantasy, life/death and friendship are themes that are crucial for teenage students to attempt to understand. This book offers an assortment of symbolism which would lead to great discussion and essay material.
Reactions: I absolutely loved I Kill Giants. At first it was hard to get into, but once I got used to what was reality and when Barbara was in her fantasy world, it was easy to follow and led to a very emotional ending. The character development is astonishing and would be a great read for any high school English classroom.
Columnist/Reviewer Timothy Callahanoffers a long review on I Kill Giants. Some of his opinions of the graphic novel are:
“…But what I love about “I Kill Giants” even more than the artwork is the way Kelly brings the elements of fantasy into the narrative without taking away their metaphorical potency. Barbara may indeed have an absurdly huge magic hammer by the end of the book, and the monsters may indeed be real, but they also operate on a symbolic level, representing the struggles Barbara faces inside her own home. And the finale, which I won’t spoil here, is emotionally moving in a way that few comics can ever achieve.
Rarely has the anxiety of adolescence been so well presented, and in such an engaging, magical way, as it appears in “I Kill Giants.” If the stylistically-similar “Scott Pilgrim” is the cool kid in the magical realist lunch room, then “I Kill Giants” is the weirdo with the furtive look who sits by itself, confident in what it is, and all the more potent for the secret knowledge it possesses.”