Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesdays Tomes: Laika

Choosing a book for the category of a book in a genre you don't read often was easy. Graphic novels are foreign territory for me, but they're something I've started gaining interest in. My awesome friend (and birthday twin) Ben sent me a beautiful graphic novel Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites for our birthday a couple years ago; he's my go-to graphic novel guy, and he knew that the best way to get me interested in the genre was to give me one about dogs and cats. The stories were fun as the animals worked to fight witches and other evil creatures in their neighborhood. I loved it. Last year, I tried Fun Home to see what all the controversy surrounding it was--it wasn't for me and I decided to take a break from graphic novels for awhile.

Then I went to the space center in Huntsville, Alabama with my family this summer and fell in love with Miss Baker and Abel, the monkeynauts. They had a stuffed animal version of Laika, the space dog, in the gift shop, but they didn't have any info on her in the rest of the space center (unless we some how missed it). I'd known that the graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis existed for a long time before we visited the space center, but my interest in reading it increased after our trip.

After taking a break from dog books for my first three books of the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge, I decided it was time to go back to reading about dogs. I ordered Laika and waited all week for it to arrive. I finished another book on Saturday morning and then squealed with excitement when the mailman dropped off my Amazon package later in the day.

Seriously, how cute is this dog?
I planned to sit down and read a chapter before getting back to lesson planning and grading, but I ended up powering through and reading the whole book in one afternoon. I was also determined to spend more time with Laika than I had with previous graphic novels; since there's less text, I tend to zoom through them and miss out on a lot of the information in the illustrations. There were a couple reasons I couldn't put it down, though.

The good: The story is powerful. You see different attitudes towards dogs as Laika bounces from house to house to street to research lab. The story also showed the powerful relationships between dogs and humans and how life-altering those relationships can be. There was a lot of information that I was unfamiliar with; my study of space travel started in 3rd grade when I did a project where I researched Judy Resnik and then pretended to be her while my dad interviewed me (note to self: see if Mom still has that video). I knew there was a space race with the Russians, but I didn't know any specifics about it. I learned a lot about the politics involved in that time period. 

The bad: Okay, so all of these things technically could fall into the category of "the good," too, because this book is really good, but y'all, this book destroyed me. The illustrations were incredible. It was clear Abadzis knows dogs and their body language. The illustrations broke me. He illustrated the "training" Laika went through to prepare for her mission and showed the grief the scientists who worked with her felt when they learned that there was no recovery plan for Laika's mission and that she would die in space--and there was nothing they could to stop it without being accused of treason and exiled to Siberia. I knew Laika didn't survive her mission--my dad Googled that for me and burst my bubble after our trip to the space center--but I didn't know that she was sent into space with the humans knowing she would never have a chance to come back alive. The story would have been heartbreaking without the illustrations, but with the illustrations, the story became unbearable. I felt physically ill while I read the book. I had to just keep reading because I couldn't stretch the experience out any longer--I needed to finish it and put it away and never read it again. Then when I learned that the Russians gained absolutely nothing from Laika's mission, I really lost it. I've buried the book in a stack of other books and I have not looked at it since finishing it.

Look at the concern on Laika's face. I can't take it.

I may have squeezed Barley multiple times and told her that I would never let anyone send her into space. From now on I'm sticking to monkeynauts! (Or Straight to Ale's Laika-inspired Cabernet Barrel-Aged Stout.)

So, on one hand, I want to love this book. The illustrations are beautiful and powerful. It's a well-written, well-illustrated book. But it is heart-wrenching. It's definitely one that will stay with me for a long time. If you decide to read this one, you're in for a fantastic book--but proceed with caution: if you have heart--even if it's 3 sizes too small--this book will break it.

For more on the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge, go here
Conveniently, my Jawbone Up band sent me this update the other day--so I've been spending the bitter cold weeks hibernating and have finished several books over the last week.

Up next is my book that's currently on the bestseller list, The Girl on the Train. I finished this book several days ago, but I sent it to my sister because she was number 900+ on her library waiting list--since it won't arrive at her house until tomorrow, she might not have had a chance to read the whole thing before next Tuesday, so I'll wait to post about it until she's read it so I don't spoil anything!

Hope everyone else has been finding enjoyable ways to spend their hibernation, too!


  1. I have never read a graphic novel, and I was thinking as I read that if I was going to try one, this might be it. Until you told me about the heartbreaking part....I don't think I could do it. Just that one picture of Laika you shared at the end there made me tear up! I didn't know the story....how sad.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. I could never actually recommend this book to anyone--even though it's a beautiful, beautiful book. It was just too sad! There are even sadder pictures of Laika in the story--I had to choose one that I could bear to look at again! If you want to try a graphic novel with some pups (and a cat!) in it, try the Beasts of Burden: Animal Rights one--it's just really fun. It sort of reminds me of that movie Hocus Pocus but with a gang of neighborhood dogs and their cat sidekick.