Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Kelsey Wroten’s ‘Cannonball’ HC, out now from Uncivilized Books.

Required Reading: 'Cannonball'
Cover to ‘Cannonball’ HC. Art: Kelsey Wroten/Uncivilized Books

by Arpad Okay. Cannonball is an immediate confrontation with a tragic figure, coarse words and devil-may-care considerations from a budding writer. A sad, angry dreamer. Despite family, friends and neighbors, lovers and literary agents, nothing can stop Caroline Bertram from walking her path.

Burn it all down. Build it back up as the vision of how it’s supposed to be. To hell with making it work. To hell with the achievements of the past. To write.

Call Caroline tragic because everyone around her mistakes her drive for immaturity. Some artists just don’t know how to be like normal people. They just know how to make art. Her life is a mess. Relationships stretch both ways, with her friends and family just not seeing it and Caroline unable to compromise.

To give up, to put down her pen, is giving up the only thing she has. So Caroline lets go of most everything else. It’s a struggle to empathize with someone who starts out bloodless and crass. Who exactly is responsible for your wrecked life? But I can’t help but feel for the girl who has only one thing in her world. Amidst the raised voices and tears, an undeniable softness.

Maybe Caroline’s growing up in this book, maybe we’re growing gentler.

Cannonball is a found family book for sure. Two things keep Caroline afloat: perseverance and strong friendships. Everyone needs a zero BS BFF to keep them in check. Someone who respects you but also holds your best interests at heart from a different perspective than yours. Cannonball is rare in its balanced depiction of friendship as some philia and some fighting.

And so in the flood comes a book, not the one Caroline was writing, a kid lit adventure related to her in feverish dream encounters. Bertram pulls an earnest story of hope and prophecy and comfort for the young self from her personal chaos. Its beauty became its success. But—real talk—that’s marketable.

Cannonball is this, too. The publishing industry wants women who write YA comics that readers connect with. It doesn’t want their narratives if they are difficult or challenging, if they aren’t allowed in a school library. Despite this, Caroline Bertram blew up, because she told her truth sad and angry and real.

Kelsey Wroten’s work in these pages is formidable and timely. Cannonball gets people with real nuance to come across, and the things that they struggle with (bills, art, boredom, passion) are in our lives. Wroten gets her say on what’s wrong with us with an understated wisdom one could call sly. Questioning our responsibilities as readers by writing a book that addresses them is a bold debut and I am here for it.

Wroten is an equally talented artist whose style is very modern in its craft and pleasantly vintage in its leanings. Wroten’s strong, curving lines create characters with whimsy and ease. Her hands are exquisite. The powerful lines paired with bold, printerly colors reminds me in a big way of Joost Swarte. Kelsey Wroten has that clarity and spice, stylized with jazz and punk, willing to experiment and swing and be unrefined.

Wroten’s colors take on a screen printer’s perspective where all lines are viewed as objects, eliminating the separation of color and contour. A single strand of blue hair, blue crease in black jeans, and almost every speech bubble capped with the same blue line. Colors are fields rather than fills. Wroten falls somewhere between Kill Rock Stars concert poster and paint by numbers kit.

Cannonball’s quest for home and purpose paired with its spritely art style make it feel like a spiritual successor to the YA book scene it brushes up against. A coming of second age. You don’t conquer the problems you had when you were young just because you got old. The crux of Caroline Bertram is a struggle for and with maturity, in an empirical world that undervalues inner life. An unstoppable force (time) meets an immovable object (youth).

Uncivilized Books / $24.95

Written by Kelsey Wroten.

Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.

Lettered by Kelsey Wroten.

You can purchase ‘Cannonball’ at a discounted price over at Uncivilized Book’s website.

More Required Reading…

Hanawalt’s ‘Coyote Doggirl’ is joyously absurd and rich as rustic cooking

‘Mirror: The Nest’ concludes a sprawling epic of violence and passion and ascension

‘Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker’ a Romantic idyll of dark deeds and unbroken bonds