“We didn’t fully understand the reason our fathers were fighting. We only understood that they had to fight…We could only cross our fingers and wish on stars and hit refresh, refresh, hoping they would return to us.” Cody, Gordon and Josh all live in the same small town, and all have fathers who are fighting in Iraq. Even as they constantly refresh their computer screens waiting for word of their dads’ safe return, they try to distract themselves from their worry by engaging in their own “fight club,” where they hit each other as hard as they can in an attempt to honor their fathers’ sacrifice by denying their own pain. “If you stepped out of the ring, you lost. If you cried, you lost. If you got knocked out or if you yelled stop, you lost.” Each boy is taking his own emotional knocks, as well. Cody struggles to raise his little brother on his own while his mother works endless factory shifts in order to make ends meet. Gordon suffers at the hands of bullies and longs to use his hunting rifle for something other than shooting deer. Josh’s secret college acceptance letter is his ticket to a better life, but will he use it if it means leaving his best friends behind? One brutal confrontation takes away all choices but one, and suddenly the boys find themselves facing a future that was once improbable but now seems inevitable. This bleak and emotionally raw GN, based on a short story by Benjamin Percy, realistically captures the pain of modern reservists’ families, who are often left in limbo when their breadwinners are sent off to war. Danica Novgorodoff’s gritty unpolished style and earth tone palette help convey the boys’ hopelessness and sorrow, the only bright colors being the red of their boxing gloves and spilled blood. A violent and heartbreaking tale that didn’t leave me feeling any better about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, but maybe that was the point.
Refresh, Refresh by Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy and James Ponsoldt