12 Reasons Why I Love Her (Oni) has a lot going for it. Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones have carefully crafted something that feels very real. Maybe it feels a little too real for my tastes, but more on that later.
First, I have to mention the structure. The book is composed of vignettes of the romantic relationship of Gwen and Evan, two urban twenty-somethings. Rich and Jones have abandoned conventional chronological order for emotional sequence. The individual moments of Gwen and Evan’s relationship are laid out in a way that maximizes cumulative effect.
But the book’s structure doesn’t distract from the content. It doesn’t seem like mere cleverness, a reader comprehension test. It’s unconventional, but it’s a natural fit for the emotional arc that Rich and Jones have built.
Then, there are Jones’s illustrations. Like the narrative order, they suit the material without overwhelming it. She conveys body language and facial expressions with lovely precision, but she avoids any tendency to overstate. She doesn’t restrict herself to conventionally realistic depiction, either. The style varies from straightforward to expressionistic depending on the vignette, and she peppers the pages with appealing, shôjo-esque touches.
The script is much the same, largely conversational but heightened in small ways. The voices of the characters are distinct and specific, and the tones of their conversations are suited to the individual moments being depicted. Those tones range from playful flirtation to raw confrontation, but the voices hold within that wide range. Gwen and Even always sound like themselves.
Rich and Jones have successfully crafted a work that feels very believable without lapsing into the mundane. Their protagonists and their world are entirely credible. Maybe they’re too much so. In an interview at Broken Frontier, Rich expressed the following sentiment:
“My initial concept was trying to imagine my ideal couple for a romantic story. I am kind of a sap and I really enjoy romantic movies, and I think they live or die based on how much you like the two people falling in love. The movie could be clichéd and kind of crappy, but if you have a genuine affection for the actors, you get into it anyway and want them to be together. I wanted Gwen and Evan to be that perfect couple.”
I agree with him. Unfortunately, my dislike for Evan, carefully created as he is, is fairly intense.
Evan’s behavior demonstrates an all-too-familiar blend of insecurity and aggression. When Gwen makes a sweet, unconventional gesture towards him, he fixates on the ways it makes his own efforts seem inadequate. He shifts conversational goalposts, lightly tossing off a serious question and then becoming hostile when Gwen’s reaction doesn’t meet his expectations. Instead of dealing with points of conflict directly, he creates further opportunities for Gwen to disappoint him.
All of this makes Evan cohere into a believable, real character, though not an especially likeable one. Gwen has her own foibles and failings, but it’s still entirely possible to wish her happiness in her current state. I can’t extend that wish to Evan, because he’s too immature.
And that constitutes a fatal flaw for me as a reader. Despite the craft and imagination that Rich and Jones have poured into 12 Reasons, I simply don’t care if one of their protagonists is happy in love, because I don’t necessarily believe he’s capable of that yet.
(This review is based on a preview proof provided by Oni Press.)