Authors and Illustrators:
Darin Strauss, Adam Dalva, Emma Vieveli and Lee Loughridge.
Dark Horse Publishers (2019).
Olivia Twist is a dystopian graphic novel parody of the Dickens classic ‘Oliver Twist” that is set in futuristic 2050 London, where society is racially divided and the politically strong have a dependence on artificial intelligence. This particular edition is a compilation of four consecutive stories. Fans of the Dickens narrative would be able to easily identify the several similarities between the traditional version and this text, including the inclusion of characters such as Mr Beedle, Fagin, Artful Dodger and the presence of violent street gangs.
This GN Olivia Twist is a very complex text. The illustrations are brilliant, and much of the storyline is coded within the visual elements. The use of colour, line and framing causes the reader to become immersed in the storyline. As the plot contains several twists and turns, the reader is forced to question the direction of the narrative and make predictions as to the actions of the protagonist. The text contains several attributes that appeal to teenagers. Obviously the predominating feature is that this is a graphic novel. Graphic novels are very popular with children and teenagers, and their multimodality promotes the development of 21st century skills such as visual literacy, critical thinking and intertextuality (Botzakis, 2018). Furthermore, this dystopian text breaks gender stereotypes, contains elements of Bildungsroman, and promotes moral development.
As a fan of the original version, I found it difficult to read this text without comparing it to the original novel. Additionally, my visual literacy is still emerging so decoding the images and illustrations required more time and effort than I expected. I had to read this GN a few times to understand it properly and to see all of its different layers. This book would be suitable for students over the age of 14 due to the presence of swearing and frequent depictions of violence. This GN meets English curriculum links in years 9 and 10 and would make an excellent substitute or alternative novel study to Huxley’s Brave New World, Dashner’s Maze Runner and Collins’ Hunger Games.
Graphic novels (GN) are an excellent addition to school library collections. When used in educational practices, GN fosters comprehension and increases recall. As the text is supported by images, GN are ideally suited to students with developing literacy (Botzakis, 2018). Their visual permanence means that the reader can choose their own reading pace and allows them to re-read as needed. But just reading GN does not mean that the students’ literacy levels will instinctively improve. GN requires the reader to make inferences, which promotes high order thinking, as well as providing contextual information to the reader (Botzakis, 2018). Their complex nature means that educators need to teach decoding and comprehending GN the same way as they teach traditional texts (Botzakis, 2018).
Good GN possess traditional narrative features such as an overarching theme, depth of plot, character development and use of literary devices (Gonzales, 2016). Additionally, they also have classic film elements such as line, colour, focus, transitioning and framing (Gonzales, 2016). One of the discerning factors between a literary GN and a comic strip is the depiction of women (Gonzales, 2016). Unlike vintage comics where the female characters resemble wasp shaped Amazons that may or may not have floss for brains, modern GN acknowledge that young girls need strong and clever female protagonists. Olivia Twist’s twist on the Dicken’s classic has strong female characters. An example of this strength would be the character of Fagin and her female band of misfits, code named Esthers, all of whom are fiesty women that exhibit racial and physical diversity.
Brannen (2013) believes that teenagers like to read about characters that have personal struggles that relate to ‘coming of age’. In this text, Olivia has lived her whole childhood starved of love and a family. She seems unaware of her own inner strength and manages to overcome all her obstacles with determination and innate need to protect those weaker than herself. After all, isn’t morality and ethics about ensuring all members of society are dealt with fairly? Not just the loudest and strongest, but even the small, weak and innocent.
Whilst Olivia Twist cannot be described as a contemporary realistic fiction due to its dystopian and science fiction characteristics, there are elements of Bildungsroman present within the text. Bildungsroman is a term used to describe texts that are centralised upon the development of a youthful protagonist (Cody, 2005). This development is usually focused on socio-cultural themes such as morality, race and class, as it provokes vigorous social discourse.
The inclusion of these themes and following social discourse allows the adolescent reader to develop their moral compass (Bushman & McNerny, 2004). Olivia’s love for Pip and her determination to keep him safe ends up being the deciding factor in her survival. Moral development in teenagers is shaped by the moral dilemmas they are exposed to. Reading fictitious stories that have moral choices within help students to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong. After all, as Edmund Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (quotationspage.com). When considering this text’s similarity to the previously mentioned texts by Huxley, Dashner and Collins, the similar vein in all three, is an ethical dilemma faced by the fringes of society.
The actions by the protagonist in all of these texts could be viewed as legally wrong by the prevailing standards of their society. The reader is able to engage with these moral and ethical dilemmas and with the help of social discourse, determine if the actions of the character were truly wrong or is the society actually at fault? Society is not an indicator of social morality. History has proven time and time again that what is right and what society determines is right can be two very different things. Just look at the evolution of civil rights. In the 1800’s, women were considered property and did not have the right to own property in their own right or vote. Whilst this has been overturned in most nations, some cultures still inhibit women from equal participation. In Australia, the Indigenous peoples were considered as part of the ‘flora and fauna’ till a national referendum in 1967 revoked that viewpoint and Indigenous people were then included as part of the national census. As individuals, we all play a part in monitoring the morality of society.
Classic young adult novels such as Olivia Twist lure the reader into the storyline with its multimodal format and then provokes them into analysing the character and their actions. The reader is able to evaluate the actions of the protagonist and decide if the action is acceptable or not. It is through this evaluation process that the reader develops their moral compass. Besides addressing curriculum links within the English curriculum, the strong female protagonist in the narrative provides a positive depiction of women and this is really important for young girls. The inclusion of good graphic novels into high school library collections meets the cognitive, behavioural and developmental needs of young adult readers.
Botzakis, S. (2018). Comics in the classroom: Using graphic novels for content learning. In D. Wooten, B. Cullinan, L. Liang & R. Allington (Eds). Children’s literature in the reading program: Engaging young readers in the 21st century, (5th ed., pp. 140-152). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.
Brannen, J. (2013). All about realistic fiction for teens. NoveList. Retrieved from https://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/novelist/pdf/Teen_RealisticFiction_GenreOutline.pdf
Bushman, J.H. & McNerny, S. (2004). Moral choices: Building a bridge between YA literature and life. ALAN Review, 32(1), 61-67. Retrieved August 2016.
Cody, D. (2005). Bildungsroman. Victorian Web – Literature, History & Culture in the age of Victoria. Retrieved from http://www.victorianweb.org/genre/bildung.html
The Quotations Page. (2018). Edmund Burke. Retrieved from http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Edmund_Burke/
Gonzalez, J. (2016). Graphic novels in the classroom. [Blog] Cult of Pedagogy. Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/teaching-graphic-novels/