Having not read the graphic novels that started this series, I can’t compare them to Giant Days the novel. Nevertheless, the fingerprints of comic form are all over this book. By this I mean that Non Pratt manages to replicate the slight zaniness inherent in any comic universe, even one purporting to be as prosaic as a story about three people in university. This shouldn’t always work in the novel form (it’s why so many superhero novels fall flat for me), yet Pratt somehow nails it.
Susan, Daisy, and Esther are roommates in their first year of university and couldn’t be more different. Susan is cagey about her past and relentless in her investigations of any injustice. Daisy, homeschooled by her grandmother, is trying to get used to this whole new socializing thing. Esther is chronically unable to actually focus on school, preferring instead to dive into socializing—until she becomes obsessed with attempting to win over a friend who embodies, for her, the epitome of her Goth girl aesthetic. As each of our protagonists becomes embroiled in her own challenges at school, they experience moments of crisis and doubt in themselves and in their friendships with each other. Giant Days, as the title implies, is about the hugeness of striking out on one’s own as a new adult, and the importance of having people you can trust, even when they’re telling you things you don’t want to hear.
For those of us unfamiliar with the comics, the story starts slow and the characters will feel somewhat cookie-cutter at first. But if you keep reading you soon get thrown into some intense and interesting conflicts. Each of the characters struggles with things that are uniquely related to her own personality. Susan’s attempts to impose a contract on McGraw are just one more way in which she uses a cool and calm exterior and relentless ordering of the world around her to soothe her internal anxiety and self-doubt. Daisy’s overindulgence in clubs is perhaps the most transparent of the three’s dilemmas and maybe something that a lot of readers who went to university can recognize. Esther’s reverential attempts to befriend Goth Girl will also feel very familiar to anyone who has ever longed platonically after someone who barely gives them the time of day.
I want to talk about this last point first and comment more generally on how Giant Days is really a great story of friendship. There are only the smallest shades of romance in this book, present in the history and tension between Susan and McGraw, for instance. Beyond that, these relationships are platonic and diversely so. I’m not just talking about Susan/Esther/Daisy—Daisy’s whole involvement with Zoise is predicated upon the desire to be among friends (or family). Esther’s dynamic with Vetra and Ed Gemmel is, likewise, a wobbly top of friendship woes. As an aromantic and asexual reader who loves stories that highlight the importance and conflict of friendships, all of this really appeals to me. Indeed, this has been a common thread throughout my reading of Pratt’s works and one of the many reasons for which I adore, inhale, and sweat out through my pores every word.
Pratt doesn’t just get it (I hope, for all our sakes, that most of us just get it to some extent)—she gets how to write about friendships in a nuanced multiplicity of manners. Whereas something like Second Best Friend is a meditation on how projection can harm our friendships and aimed at a younger audience, Giant Days is about the scary world of new adult friendships. These aren’t people we’ve known all our lives and bonded with through thick and thin. They are usually brand new to us, and not only are we worried that we’ll screw something up and they won’t want to be friends with us, but we are busy figuring out who we are as adults. And through the differences in the three protagonists’ personalities, Pratt emphasizes that this experience is not limited to any particular type of person. We all go through these growing pains, in one way or another.
I feel both seen and personally attacked by the scenes depicting and critiquing Esther’s semantic shenanigans and how she complains to herself that she is rusty when it comes to academic doublespeak! (Just look at my lengthy, essay-style reviews from 2008ish into 2012 to see what I mean.) Pratt lampoons academia here, and the way it encourages young people to affect an air of knowledge that is largely unearned, and it is glorious. Esther’s desperation to impress Vetra prompts her to contort herself, socially, in ways she would find so unappealing if she were an outsider looking at herself—but how often can we realize that? Meanwhile, through some pretty sharp commentary via Susan, Pratt points out that Vetra herself, far from being a kind of stock character in this story, is another example of a type of character a young person often becomes in university in order to feel like they belong (or in this case, deliberately don’t belong—yay counterculture).
I should mention that my university experience was, for the most part, extremely different from Susan, Esther, and Daisy’s. I didn’t live in residence. It’s only now, well after university and now that I finally have fulfilling adult friendships, that I realize I was so impoverished during university. I had largely drifted away from high school friendships. There were people I knew, fellow students, with whom I forged some superficial let’s-meet-up-and-study type bonds. For the most part I just spent more time with slightly older coworkers at my job; it wasn’t until my last couple of years in university when I really fell in with some people I felt got me. I don’t regret how this unfolded—for one thing, for better or for worse it led to my life as it is now, and that life is pretty great, with some people whom I’m incredibly fond of. It’s just interesting, the different paths that we take, especially during those critical years of self-discovering at the commencement of adulthood and independent living.
If there are moments when Giant Days feels too over-the-top, too twee—like the ramifications of Daisy’s involvement with Zoise—then I’ll fall back on what I said at the beginning of this review: this is a comic book universe poured into prose form, and the regular rules maybe don’t apply so much. Realism is not a binary in literature but a spectrum, and Pratt is an expert at adjusting the realism dial until it is just so for the story she wants to tell. That’s why I keep coming back, for that perfect combination of offbeat, quirky situations yet deep and real human connections. This is what stories are for.