I have a bit of a troubled relationship with this book. The Land of Lines was released at the beginning of June, and we received it a few weeks before for review consideration; it’s been sitting on our pile since. Every once in a while I pick it up and flip through it, trying to decide, “Should I write about, or not?”
Our policy for reviews is pretty simple: We have no interest in giving bad reviews. That’s not to say we write good reviews about every book we get, no matter if we liked it or not, it means if we get a book and we dislike it, we just won’t bring it up. The reason for this is that Kinderlit.ca takes up a lot of time. A lot more than we anticipated. And we also have jobs and a family to tend to, so reading a book we hate, or taking the time to write a review about a book we’re going to bash just doesn’t make sense to us.
We’re honest in our reviews; if we like a book, but have issues with it, we discuss the issues, which brings us to The Land of Lines. I love –LOVE– so much about it, but there’s a nagging issue with it that keeps me from screaming about my love from the rooftops…
On the one hand, The Land of Lines is an adventure story told with no words –save for a few “sound effects”– and deceptively simple line drawings, and the artistry is phenomenal. Hussenot has built a world full of angular terrain, using lines of blue and red, inhabited by a little blue boy and a little red girl, as well as a third character in yellow. Their adventure is exciting and enthralling; you find yourself flipping back a page or two on occasion to re-view what you’ve just gone through.
The feeling of action is genius, and so strongly rendered you might hear the theme from Indiana Jones playing in your head, and the land Hussenot’s created is wonderfully realized, with a surprising amount of depth.
On the other hand, the depiction of the male-female relationship is disappointing. The girl falls in love with the boy very quickly (the page after she meets him) and follows him around, essentially helpless throughout and literally carried by him at one point, until she needs to be outright saved by the brave boy, a real damsel in distress; in the end, when they return home, he leaves her sobbing in the arms of her mother and heads out for more adventure. She wants to settle down, but he can’t be tamed!
Upon finishing it with my 5-year old daughter the first time, she said it was “nice that the boy helped the girl so much when she was sick.” I asked her why she thought the girl was sick –she’s not– and she responded “Because she couldn’t do anything and had to be carried and helped so much.”
Now, I don’t believe every book has to be a raging feminist manifesto by any stretch, but at the same time, it’s 2015 and this sort of sexism, especially in a children’s picture book, is somewhat shocking. (Further, a couple of the books relegated to our Do Not Review pile are full on girl power volumes, many of which were sunk by their rah-rah approach to feminism destroying any narrative interest they might hold.) If you have a problem with the inherent sexism in Disney’s films –Ariel giving up everything for Prince Eric, Belle falling in love with the man who is keeping her captive– you’re liking to be uncomfortable with this.
As the father of a young girl I’ve been hesitant to re-read The Land of Lines with my daughter, and the times we have read it have been followed by discussions of the gender dynamics in the book, which is something, I suppose. Anything that spurs conversation is good.
But it is disappointing. Had Hussenot sat and watched Thelma and Louise before submitting The Land of Lines to Chronicle Books we might have ended up with a full-blown classic on our hands, on par with yet another Chronicle release, Jihyeon Lee’s Pool. Instead, we’re left with a book that, on an artistic and narrative level, is awe-inspiring, but on another level is troublesome.
Kinderlit.ca requested and received a copy of The Land of Lines in exchange for an honest review. Read about our review policy HERE.