Published on July 25th, 2014 | by Ashleigh Mattern0
Chopsticks is a graphic novel constructed entirely of images, a young adult mystery that is a joy to peruse — until the last 16 pages.
Chopsticks is a graphic novel (and an app!) constructed entirely of images, and a young adult mystery that is a joy to peruse — until the last 16 pages.
The opening images spark the mystery setting, telling us of the disappearance of a young woman who will become one of two main characters in the story. Through one of the few pull quotes, we’re told “World famous pianist Glory Fleming is missing,” and then taken back 18 months earlier.
We’re introduced to Glory by a series of shots that show the outside of her house, the living room, and then a photo album on a table, which we then flip through. These glimpses into someone’s life through photos is clever; it’s amazing the narrative we can invent about a person from simply the image of a hand-written schedule posted on the fridge with a magnet.
The second character we’re introduced to is Francisco Mendoza, a young man from Argentina who moves next door to Glory. As you might deduce from the cover of the novel, a romance blossoms between the two, despite Glory’s demanding practice schedule and overbearing father.
When I read mystery novels, I enjoy the story, but I’m also looking for clues, wondering what the answer is, paying attention so that I might figure out the mystery myself before it’s revealed. To me, that’s part of the fun of reading a mystery. That sense of, “Ah! I should have seen that detail!” is exciting; I like to be impressed by the cleverness of the author / detective. But this is where Chopsticks falls short. The ending is confusing. The images fail to convey enough meaning to clearly reveal an answer to the mystery. That lack of clarity may well have been purposeful on the part of the author, Jessica Anthony, but as a reader, I was disappointed.
My first reaction to the ending was, “What just happened?” which led me to furiously flip through the pages to try to see if I’d missed anything. I’m sure any novelist hopes that you’ll love a book so much that you will re-read it, but that’s not what I was doing. I was re-skimming out of frustration and annoyance. Not the best reaction. Even as I wrote this review, I skimmed through it again, still trying to fit the pieces together. My conclusion is that the ambiguous ending was perhaps purposeful, but certainly not done well.
Throughout the book, we see photos of Glory and Frank together, read their text messages and love letters to one another, read letters from Frank’s school, and see artwork that Frank drew for Glory. We also learn that Glory is somewhat mentally unstable, having often checked into a poorly named rest facility for the musically inclined called ‘Golden Hands.’
Within the last 16 pages of the book, as the events reach the point 18 months earlier where the story began, a letter to Frank and a boat ticket to Ushuaia, Argentina, suggests Glory has left the country, perhaps a plan she and Frank had previously concocted. But we are also shown that all of Frank’s artwork now suddenly have Glory’s signature, and a bottle of wine labeled Francisco, from Mendoza, Argentina, bears a boy’s face, suggesting Frank was a fiction of Glory’s imagination. A final note has Frank’s signature in Glory’s handwriting, but one of the last photographs in the book is of Glory and Frank sitting together.
One astute Goodreads reviewer made this sense out of the muddled ending: That Frank never existed, and in the end, Glory committed suicide. She noted that Glory was underage, and therefore unlikely to be able to book passage to Argentina, and besides, Ushuaia is often called “The end of the world,” because it’s the southernmost city on Earth — a poetic way to hint at the end of a life. Also notable is that earlier in the book, Glory was reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which follows a young woman’s descent into madness and eventual suicide.
Other images in the novel support this interpretation, but someone could also make a case for the nicer story: that he did exist, and they lived happily ever after in Argentina. Or that he didn’t exist, but she left for Argentina anyway. (I could go into details, but I feel I’ve already spent too many words reviewing a book I’m not really a fan of).
The ending seems to come from the tradition of the unreliable narrator, implying that Glory was telling the story all along, but from the beginning, the novel builds a sense of an outsider looking in. If Glory committed suicide, who is watching the newscasts and collecting the newspaper articles saying she’s missing? One explanation might be that Glory’s father is the narrator, but that doesn’t explain the images of Frank. How are there so many pictures of them together if he didn’t exist? And who was she texting? Herself from another phone?
Honestly, I feel like there are no solid answers to these questions because either the novel was meant to be ambiguous or it’s simply flawed. I enjoyed the novel until its conclusion, but the ending of any story is absolutely paramount to its success. Due to Chopsticks’ problematic ending, I cannot recommend it.