(I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review)
Trigger warning: harassment, sexual and physical abuse, rape
Take It as a Compliment is a book about shame and fear and trauma, but mostly shame. About the shame people experience when they are the victims of unwanted sexual attention, the shame of speaking out, the shame of knowing that there is always someone ready to blame victims for their own abuse.
It collects the real stories of real victims of sexual trauma, giving these people a voice to articulate things they have kept hidden. Each of the twenty stories is a different experience, but each comes from the same problematic cultural place that is summed up in the title: unwanted sexual attention as some sort of flattery rather than a violation. Most of the stories are very short, some only a couple of lines, but they are all personal and forceful.
I was initially a little wary of approaching these confessional-style stories in graphic novel form; the art has the potential to make or break the emotional connection to the stories. Too realistic and the visceral disgust makes it difficult to stomach, too cartoonish and it seems like a joke. To her credit, Stoian avoids both extremes. She takes a similar but distinct approach to each story, with most of them rendered in a flat, 2-D style with a highly saturated color palette. The simplicity and deceptively bright veneer performs three distinct functions: 1) it distances the experience just enough to keep readers engaged with something that is profoundly disturbing, 2) it allows the voices of the victims to take the front seat over the art itself, and 3) it offers a juxtaposition between the style and the substance that creates an amplifying dissonance. There are also hints of surrealism that add an extra layer of disorientation and immediacy. The most harrowing of the physical actions that occur are generally off-page or obliquely rendered, but when all the elements are brought together, they are very powerful.
This is not a fun book, as I’m sure should be obvious by now. But it is an important book, another step in an ongoing process to find the courage and the mediums to really discuss the crisis of rape culture and the unnecessary shame associated with being mistreated that so often results in silence.