Title: Giant Days (2018)
Author: Non Pratt
Publisher: ABRAMS Kids/Amulet Books
Release Date: 21st August 2018
Read: 3rd – 4th August 2018
Genre: young-adult; contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Based on the hit graphic-novel series from BOOM! Studios, the publisher behind Lumberjanes, Giant Days follows the hilarious and heartfelt misadventures of three university first-years: Daisy, the innocent home-schooled girl; Susan, the sardonic wit; and Esther, the vivacious drama queen. While the girls seem very different, they become fast friends during their first week of university. And it’s a good thing they do, because in the giant adventure that is college, a friend who has your back is key—something Daisy discovers when she gets a little too involved in her extracurricular club, the Yogic Brethren of Zoise. When she starts acting strange and life around campus gets even stranger (missing students, secret handshakes, monogrammed robes everywhere . . .), Esther and Susan decide it’s up to them to investigate the weirdness and save their friend.” (Synopsis from the publisher)
A few weeks ago, I discovered the delight that is the comic book series, Giant Days, a brightly coloured, wacky story of something a lot of young people go through – university. It may not seem like the most imaginative premise, but the series immediately won me over with its relatable characters and scenarios which were all rendered in such beautiful and striking technicolour. Cue me finding out that this novelisation existed and jumping at the chance to experience this narrative and these characters in a more extended and detailed format. And I loved it.
“Some people had skeletons in their metaphorical closets; Susan had accrued a plague pit of human remains. Not that Esther and Daisy needed to know. That was the joy of university; a fresh start for everyone. Even someone as jaded as Susan. The only things her new friends knew about her were the things she chose to reveal.”
The trio of Daisy, Susan, and Esther are wonderfully realised – each girl has her own unique voice and characterisation, and they’re all so different and yet somehow manage to come together in the weird sort of companionship you only really find in the already weirdly arranged setup that is university halls. As it’s (mostly) a random process of assigning first-years onto the same corridors, you can end up neighbours with a person that is your complete opposite (you’re quiet whilst they’re loud, or you’re a shrinking violet whilst they’re the life and soul of the party etc. etc.), and that spirit of strange friendship despite your dissimilarities is exactly what Non Pratt has captured so well in Giant Days. Likewise, she’s captured equally well the cocktail of personalities which often causes less than pleasant scenarios in those first few weeks of term – making friends with people who turn out to be not nice people, struggling with bouts of anxiety and homesickness, feeling like you don’t know where you belong in this new and scary place. The fact that Non Pratt takes the time to capture the less-than-glamorous minutiae of the university experience (whether that’s having to listen to a mansplaining dude in class or needing to put up with ‘rugby lads’ on a night-out) was something that definitely won me over to this book.
” ‘That particular gentleman was lush.’
‘If you say so,’ Susan replied, pulling her jacket tighter and lowering herself gently into the seething hot waters of resentment.”
Although the plot quickly devolves into what seems alarmingly sinister and concerning for an otherwise mundane scenario, I appreciated that the story was always rooted in this main trio of characters and their individual reactions to the upheaval of being uprooted from one’s home town and plonked down into an unfamiliar university environment with new people and new classes and new problems to work out on your own, or maybe together, if you’re lucky enough to make friends like Esther, Susan, and Daisy. This trio of girls all had their own problems of fitting in, and different reactions to it. Whilst Susan, working so hard to construct her image as jaded and sarcastic med student, dealt with university in one way, we had Esther, feeling like university maybe isn’t for her because she struggled to do the actual ‘going to university’ bit and then focused her energy instead on making friends with a girl she admired from afar who, it turns out, was kind of rude and unkind to her, despite Esther’s best efforts to be friendly.
“When Esther liked something, she really went all in, something that Daisy admired. It took conviction and confidence in one’s own judgment to make such strong proclamations about something – or someone – about which she knew so little.”
Daisy, meanwhile, experiences that all too familiar reaction of homesickness, which manifests in an amusing interlude where she desperately yells during a phone call home to her granny not to replace the microwave at home. Despite the amusing scenario, it displayed something all too real – the worry of things at home changing when you’re no longer around to witness them for yourself, of feeling like your home is no longer quite the same place as you left it when you went off to university. I loved that the novel was unafraid to explore this and focus on Daisy as she tries to bottle up the feelings of loneliness, since everyone else around her is having such a good time, and instead throws herself into literally every club and society she can find during Freshers Week, thereby leaving herself no time at all to actually dwell on the feelings she’s experiencing.
“For all that her loyalties lay with Susan, there was no denying that McGraw was one of the most considerate, polite, and downright chivalrous people Daisy had ever encountered. He had the manners of a Regency gentleman, the mustache of a middle-aged man, and the youthful twinkle in his smile of someone who looked at the world and liked it.”
The plot aside, the writing style of this book worked well to balance the seriousness of the underlying emotions and motivations of the characters against the witty narration which allowed us a glimpse inside their heads and their own thought processes, all of which helped the reader to get to know the characters better along the way. There was something about Non Pratt’s turn of phrase that was amusing, instantly engaging, and endearing; it made me want to gobble up the book all that much more, and I was hooked to the point of finishing this book inside a couple of days. Likewise, it was also very deliberate and self-aware, with the book casting judgement on even its own characters, without it feeling too much like it was forcing the reader to think a certain way about a character.
“Ed Gemmell, fellow J-block resident, was a young man with the personality of a cinnamon roll and the spine of partially cooked spaghetti. He was inoffensive and perfectly tolerable…”
As someone who very much enjoyed the university experience, as well as found it challenging socially, Giant Days reminded me of that feeling of being a student in halls all over again, and the weird and wonderful friendships and situations you find yourself in in that strange environment that they call ‘university’. For those looking for a fun but also thoughtful contemporary with excellent characters and great friendships, I’d heartily recommend Giant Days.
” ‘How many of us came here because we needed somewhere to belong?’ There was an almost universal avoiding of her gaze. ‘Because it was hard fitting in, because we missed home, because we weren’t sure we were doing the right thing? We’re first-year students! That’s how we’re supposed to feel.’ “
Thank you to ABRAMS Kids/Amulet Books for kindly providing me with an eARC of the book via NetGalley – I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read and review titles prior to their release, but this does not affect my overall opinion or review of the book itself.
Please note: the quotes above were taken from the eARC copy of the novel – this may be subject to change and differ from the published text of the novel.