Between its covers, there are three separate tales, all originally published separately in Australia between 1998 and 2001. All magical, all slightly mysterious, and all containing messages that may or may not be perceived by the reader. In a note from the author in the back of the book, the stories are described as having come from Tan's experimental period as an artist and as a writer, and are all "about the relationship between people and places, especially when the relationship is ruptured by physical displacement".
In "The Red Tree", a young girl is overwhelmed by sadness and loneliness, but eventually finds hope in the form of a tiny red leaf "right in front of you, bright and vivid, quietly waiting". Of the three stories, the art in this chapter is something you could get lost in, jarring and violent and haunting and beautiful. The picture below was my son's favorite. He sat and looked at it for probably ten minutes (the child that can't sit still).
In "The Lost Thing", upon which the Oscar-winning short was based, a young man happens upon a creature that doesn't fit in. It seems to be lost, so he takes it home and takes care of it, hiding it from his apathetic (and slightly intolerant) parents until he can find a place where it will be among its kind. It reminded me of a stray animal, or an immigrant, or a person who feels separated from society. It made me both sad and touched simultaneously.
The third story "The Rabbits", was the most disturbing to me. It depicts a peaceful native land that is invaded by Rabbits, who arrive determined to conquer and rule. They bring their technical expertise, new food, and new diseases. They destroyed the land, ravaged natural resources and did as they pleased. "Who will save us from the rabbits?". This one was scary, and made me slightly nauseous.
The book appears to the informed eye to be a children's picture book. As I've said in my earlier reviews of Tan's work, however, small children are not going to grasp the concepts addressed here, although they are bound to be mesmerized by the amazing artwork. My 11-year-old and I read this together. He got it, and loved it. That made two of us.
If you are interested in giving graphic novels a try, and you have an appreciation for mind-blowing art, I would recommend you give Tan a try. You can read the books in an hour or so, and will most likely want to give them a second or third pass. As I've said before, minimal investment, maximum impact.
5 out of 5 stars