Saturday 30 October 2021

#CBR13 Book 51: "Ubesvart anrop" (Unanswered call) by Nora Dåsnes

Page count: 283 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Official book description (translated by me):
Oslo, late summer 2011

Barely a month after the terror attacks on the 22nd of July, Rebekka and Fariba are starting high school. Rebekka doesn't know any of the people who died, and thinks she should be one of the ones who are ready to claim back their peace of mind. So when Fariba signs up for the Labour Party Youth Movement, Rebekka tries to get involved with drama club, with Daniel with the curly hair, with parties and school and friends. 

The only problem is that Rebekka thinks about it (the 22nd of July) all the time. 

Unanswered call is a graphic novel about being a teenager in the time after the 22nd of July. It's a story about looking for reason in the face of the unreasonable, about being an outsider, about grief and anxiety. About how hard it is to reach out to one another, and how important it is when we manage it. 

It's been ten years since one very determined and angry Norwegian man planted a car bomb in the very heart of the capital, right outside the building where the prime minister's office is located. At 3:25 pm on the 22nd of July 2011, the bomb went off and caused tremendous amounts of damages. The sound of the explosion and the shock wave resulting from it could be felt all over greater Oslo, and even in some neighbouring counties. A total of eight people are killed, nine people were critically injured and more than two hundred sustained physical injuries in some way. Pretty much every window in the buildings nearby is shattered. Police and emergency services work quickly to try to evacuate as much of the area as possible and the police start working on figuring out the culprit and motive for the attack.

As it turns out, the bomb was just a distraction, if a frightfully effective one, at that. The terrorist, 32- year-old Anders Behring Breivik (he has since changed his name) was already on his way out of Oslo when the bomb went off and by 5:20 pm, he had made his way to Utøya, a small island about an hour's drive from the capital, where the Labour Party Youth Movement held their annual summer camp. He was dressed as a police officer and told the driver of the boat that took people out to the island (it is still only accessible by boat) that he was there to help secure the island after the attack in the capital. He was finally arrested at 6:35 pm, having wandered the idyllic little island shooting, killing or injuring as many people as possible. After his rampage, 69 of the 564 people on the tiny island were dead. The youngest victim was only 14. 32 of the dead were under 18. As well as the people who died, about 32 people were critically injured and there are hundreds of people, direct victims or their loved ones, who even now live with the physical and psychological trauma that the event caused.

I was also 32 years old when it happened, and while I didn't know anyone directly involved in any of the attacks, it's one of those events that has left scars. I still get affected talking about it or reading about the event. In about a week's time, the 10th graders in my school are all going to visit Utøya, where there is now a visitor's centre, and we're in the process of teaching them more about the attacks and their aftermaths. The kids I teach were only 5 at the time it happened, so for most of them, it's not in any way as affecting or upsetting for them as it is for me and several of my colleagues. Let's just say I'm probably going ugly cry when we have to watch the Norwegian film version of what happened later this week, and I suspect I'm going to be very shaken by the visit to the island as well.

This graphic novel came out earlier this year, and the author/artist was herself about to start high school about a month after the attacks took place. The entire country was still reeling, and the feelings of collective grief and trauma were strong. The book features three different teenagers, and the ways in which they try to go about their lives, trying to process the shocking events and pretending to be unaffected, despite being everything but. Rebekka, our androgynous protagonist, suffers occasional panic attacks and spends a lot of time online doing research to try to figure out why one young man got angry enough to perpetrate something so horrific. Fariba, her best friend, gets involved with youth politics and joins the youth organisation that was so cruelly targeted on the island. She wants to ensure that the world is a better place going forward. Daniel, the slightly older student Rebekka meets as part of drama club is more of a supporting character, but he, like so many others, is having trouble just moving on. 

This proved to be an excellent book to introduce the students to, as the art is very clear and easy to follow and a lot of the story is told by wordless panels and the body language and facial expression of the characters. While most of the panels are done in a bluish grey and white, all the flashbacks that characters have to the 22nd of July, thinking about where they were during the attack, are in a vivid red and white. Even the students who really struggle with reading managed to read and comprehend the story perfectly well, and we had some really good discussions as a result. 

Myself, I read the whole book in less than an hour. I borrowed it at our school library, planning to check it out a week or two before we were going to talk about it in class, and after looking at a few pages, I was sucked in and read the whole thing in one sitting. I think my only complaint about the book is that the ending feels rushed, and a lot of the story threads wrap up a little bit too quickly and neatly for my taste. I wish the author would have added ten-twenty more pages to make the ending a bit less sudden, but otherwise, this was an excellent read and I may buy myself a copy once it's released in paperback. 

Judging a book by its cover: The cover shows the book's protagonist, Rebekka, as well as her best friend Fariba and Daniel, the boy that Rebekka fancies. The cover gives a good impression of the art style the author uses throughout the book. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

No comments:

Post a Comment