When I originally read the soundbite summary for Norm Konyu’s graphic novel The Junction – a debut work exploring the mysterious return of a missing child – it immediately grabbed my attention:
Lucas has returned home. 12 years after disappearing. Silent. Haunted. And still 11 years old.
However, it was blurb that I thought couldn’t possibly deliver on expectations. I am very pleased to admit I was entirely wrong on that count. On finishing The Junction I was pleasantly surprised by how it didn’t simply live up to the promise of that plot summary but actually exceeded it. In a sense it’s a misdirection because that element of the story is a simple lead-in to something far more profound in its eerily poignant delivery.
Before discussing further, though, I need to note that it’s impossible to talk about what makes The Junction such a compelling read without at least some mild spoilers. You have been warned. But the short version for those who don’t want to progress further down this article for that reason is that this is an outstanding graphic novel, an essential book to acquire, and a remarkable debut from a truly skilled storyteller.
The mystery of Lucas Jones’s reappearance, not a day older than he was when vanished all those years ago, is quickly revealed to be simply a precursor to a far more involved tale that, for all its overt weirdness and the mindbending anomalies that sit at its heart, is actually a very human story of love, loss, community and the importance of family. When Lucas is found in Medford, the town he had disappeared from, his presence is met with incredulity. How can this be the same boy? Is he an impostor? And why is he so reticent to speak about the day he and his father went missing all those years ago?
What follows is a tale told from multiple perspectives and vantage points as slowly the truth behind what happened to Lucas is revealed. Individual puzzle pieces begin to lock together as teases and revelations come via artefacts, medical reports, telling dream sequences, police statements and Lucas’s own journal entries with their allusion to a strange locale called the Junction. This piecing together of disparate elements as a greater picture slowly comes into view is a perfect narrative tool to reflect The Junction’s plot structure, making the reader feel as intimately involved in the investigation as the characters.
As we jump timeframes and realities, Konyu takes us down a completely unexpected path giving us a story that is both otherworldly and heartbreaking… but heartbreaking in a rather beautiful way as we observe for ourselves the enormity of what happened to Lucas in the intervening years, and its affect on the very fabric of the world he left behind. The vector artwork is a perfect aesthetic fit for a story and environment that need to feel simultaneously familiar and comfortable and yet detached and somewhat “other” as well. A kind of crooked house version of reality that embodies both the everyday and the alien.
This is a difficult book to review simply because the capacity to delight and touch that its twists and turns possess really should be experienced firsthand by the reader directly on the page. But, suffice to say, this is one of the most accomplished debut books I have ever reviewed for Broken Frontier. The Junction was self-published via a Kickstarter campaign but bigger publishers should be looking at it with an eye to taking it to the far wider audience it deserves.
Review by Andy Oliver