Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Henni by Miss Lasko-Gross Review

Henni is a cat-like young girl living in a theocratic society. As she starts to mature, she questions the religion that instructs her every action and so begins her journey of growing up and finding her own individual identity, whether the world accepts her or not. 

Miss Lasko-Gross’s surreal coming-of-age fairy tale is a continuation of her theme of liberation from societal norms like her book, Escape from Special. But while Henni looks at outdated tradition and corrupt religion and its effects on the subjugation of women, as well as the importance of free thought and the role of art, it’s a fairly simplistic examination that puts me in mind that Henni is aimed at younger readers. 

It’s not a bad story: we see Henni being ostracised from her own society for not being a mindless servant, and travelling into another more “enlightened” society that has its own contradictions and issues. Henni is a fine main character and a good role model for younger readers to identify with – she’s thoughtful, open-minded and quick-witted who becomes more resilient in the face of oppression. 

The Disruptor was my favourite character, an artist whose uncompromising stance led to his eyes being removed. But he still produces art, outside of society, making forays into town and putting up his art before its destroyed by the town’s guards. Artists should be fearless and follow their creative instincts like he does here, and art does have a very significant role in any culture. 

Lasko-Gross’s art is surreal and dream-like while grounded in a semblance of reality. It’s our world for the most part at less developed stages, though Henni herself has an oddly animalistic appearance. This might be a continuation of Maurice Sendak’s Max character from Where the Wild Things Are; Max wore a wolf costume and the story is an expression of his frustration of the world. Lasko-Gross’s Henni is an older character but resembles a human cat; the story is equally a look at the anger and frustration she feels at the world around her but explored in a more measured way. Like Sendak’s story, Henni is also a fairy tale. 

The unsubtle commentary on the importance of individuality, freedom of expression, independent thought and equality for women, was the only part of the book that brought it down. Younger readers are more likely to get more out of this charming comic but it’s still an enjoyable book for older readers. It may falter in the face of incorporating plenty of substance into its narrative but that it aimed to include numerous worthy ideas is laudable.


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