Ethan Hawke has over 50 films to his name and he’s written three adult novels, all bestsellers. Meadowlark is his second graphic novel in collaboration with illustrator and writer, Greg Ruth, following Indeh in 2016, and it’s rather good. Aimed at older teens, this coming-of-age crime story requires that level of maturity as it deals in serious themes encompassing violence and the duplicity of the adult world. It’s a pacy thriller, genuinely gripping and it certainly packs a punch. This novel reflects on modern family life and divorce, growing up in dangerous and uncertain times, being let down by those you trust, finding your own way in the world, and redemption.
Huntsville, Texas, seems like a quiet, ordinary place. Loretta is at the end of her tether. Her boy Cooper is out of control. He hates his stepfather Barry and idealises his biological father, Jack. Jack is the typical feckless and absent parent. With the adults caught up in their own troubles, no one sees Coop’s point of view, so he acts up for the attention and they react to that. Coop is no more aware of the effect of his behaviour on the adults than they are of theirs on him. He’s hurting. Jack is $15,000 behind on maintenance payments so Loretta has taken his one and only beloved possession – his Firebird – as collateral. As Barry is using Jack’s car, Coop removes the wheels to punish him. The problem is neither Barry nor Loretta can go to work anytime soon.
Loretta calls Jack to get him to talk to Coop and he arrives at the house and makes a half-hearted attempt to tell his son off. It doesn’t lead anywhere so, with Loretta still angry, Jack decides to get Cooper out of the house. He offers to take Coop to school but after Buck, Jack’s work colleague, picks them up, Coop reveals that he’s been expelled for dealing drugs.
Jack is stuck with his boy for the day, so Coop winds up going to work with his dad. The only problem with that is that Jack is a guard at the local penitentiary. While Jack does his stint in the watchtower, Coop hangs out with Smokes, the only female guard. She talks to Coop like he’s an adult not a child and tells him about his dad who is a bit of a hero for her too. Coop asks about the inmates and Smokes explains that some are broken inside but very few are evil per se. They’re more damaged, and you can’t tell anything by looking at them.
Smokes points out a prisoner and tells his story. The young man had his whole life in front of him and would be in college, headed for the NFL, but he stabbed his prom queen girlfriend one night under the bleachers at the football field. Then there’s Red – big, ugly and more the type you’d expect in prison. He would have killed a nurse only a few days ago if Jack hadn’t intervened, but not before he bit her ear. Coop is feeling uneasy, and at this point the story takes a turn. Three men have decided to make a break for freedom.
Soon the prison is in chaos and the inmates are rioting. The three escapees make the best of the confusion but escape is only possible with a little inside help. Who will be the heroes and villains, and on which side of the line will Coop fall?
Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth have created a graphic novel all about teenage hopes and dreams, and about taking wrong steps in life but picking yourself up and moving on. It’s about the relationships between parents and their children, and them seeing one another as real people rather than ideals. Whether Coop and Jack make it through the day hangs in the balance – it’ll get worse before it gets better. Coop soon finds out some pretty bad things about his father but there’s a chance for redemption along the way. In the end Coop is going to have to take things in his own hands to survive.
The artwork and story marry nicely, with spare line work and shading that is understated and noir-ish, but with enough there to give it depth. There’s a motif that hints at the freedom of the natural world as well as Coop’s aspiration and confusion as he navigates the grown up world. His desire to spread his wings is met with a harsh warning about the dog-eat-dog environment that exists out in the big bad world. This is an empowering story, and we think it will appeal to reluctant young readers as well as lovers of crime graphic novels.
For another superb graphic novel see this adaptation of Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die. For some artwork from Meadowlark, scroll down.
Grand Central Publishing
CFL Rating: 4 Stars