Refresh, Refresh (First Second)

refresh-header.jpgThree high school friends with fathers in Iraq struggle to win the war at home.

 

 

 

138 pgs., full color; $17.99

(W & A: Danica Novgorodoff)

The Iraq War, which has already claimed over 4000 American lives and whose costs will soon exceed that of the Vietnam War, shows no sign of ending any time soon. So no matter what you call it (Operation Iraqi Freedom is favored, apparently without irony, in some quarters) this is no minor conflict but one which has already left its imprint on American life.

But although there have been plenty of nonfiction books published about the war, the great Iraq War novel has yet to be written. Until it arrives, the graphic novel Refresh, Refresh by Danica Novgorodoff offers an excellent if small-scale look into the effect of the war on the people left behind, in this case three high school friends named Josh, Cody and Gordon. Their fathers are Marine Reservists called up to active service in Iraq, leaving the families to cope with life in a small town in rural Oregon.

The cover to Refresh, Refresh by Danica Novgorodoff. Click for a larger image.There’s not enough money, the boys have to shoulder unaccustomed chores like cooking and childcare, and most of all they miss their dads who they are afraid they may never return. They live for emails from their dads (the title refers to the characters hitting the "refresh" key on their computers to see if any new email has arrived) but otherwise observe an unwritten code which prohibits them from acknowledging that fear. Instead they try to harden themselves, pounding each other bloody in a makeshift boxing ring where the rules are simple: "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."

Refresh, Refresh is a spiritual cousin to the Stephen King story "The Body," which was made into the film Stand By Me. The boys in Refresh, Refresh are older (on the cusp of adulthood rather than the cusp of adolescence) but share the feeling that it’s them against the world while also sensing that approaching maturity may split them up.

Despite the pain the war has already caused them, two of the boys have no plans other than enlisting as soon as possible—Cody in the Marines, Gordon in the Army Rangers. Josh tries to conceal his acceptance to the University of Oregon and when he finally reveals it, Cody suggests that he might as well join Al Qaeda. The tragedy is that they’re still kids with the limited perspectives of kids yet within a year or two could be risking their lives, and taking the lives of others, in a foreign country about which they know and understand next to nothing.

The truth of the war strikes home when a Marine in dress uniform appears unbidden at Josh’s house. In a military community everyone knows what that means and the Marine gets no further than "Josh Simpson, I regret to inform you…" before the boys attack, leading to a conclusion which no one intended.

Refresh, Refresh was adapted by James Ponsoldt from a short story by Benjamin Percy. The graphic novel’s text retains a literary feel while Novgorodoff’s art conveys the contrast between the beauty of the Oregon countryside and the limited opportunities which the boys perceive for their lives. It’s also an ideal style to express the gap between their present maturity and the demands of the adult world they will soon enter. | Sarah Boslaugh

For more information and an 11-page excerpt of Refresh, Refresh, visit http://us.macmillan.com/refreshrefresh.

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