Although I had read Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and thought it quite fine, it did not prepare me for the amazing achievement that is Habibi. There is an incredible amount of care in each page, a thematic cohesion across the entire book, that this is finally a graphic novel that deserves the latter term. So many graphic novels come across as slight–often because they are simply collections of monthly serials that strive to create an overall story arc, but are often simply the stuff of melodrama. Thompson has truly created something that stands apart, and is worthwhile of your time.
Yet, I still only gave it 3.5 stars. Why? There’s the rub. While I was impressed by Thompson’s craft, and admired his themes, the underlying story itself failed to really connect with me. Having just completed living in Saudi Arabia for two-and-a-half years, I’m no stranger to the Arabic culture that provides the underlying cultural viewpoint, and I had done my own self study of the Arabic alphabet and could enjoy the intricate script work that Thompson achieved. But the biggest failing for this book for me is it’s post-apocalyptic setting. I’m just not a big fan of what happens after the world fails to address climate change and things fall apart. While one can read and enjoy Habibi without focusing on its post-apocalyptic setting–you could try and read this as some kind of alternate world–there’s just too much of it for me.
The story, without giving too much away, is about a young woman and an even younger boy who undergo change and transformation as they find each other, lose each other and themselves, and then refind themselves and the other. It’s a very unusual love story, and it’s about as much, if not more, about love in the abstract as it is about love in reality.
There are some harsh images here, both presented visually on the page and implied off the panel, as the plot contains some graphic description of sex–both good and bad–, childbirth, body mutilation, and poverty. But if you have a strong stomach, and want to read something like nothing else, this is recommended.