Incoming freshman to the College of Charleston, my alma mater, this fall are asked to read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel as part of their freshman orientation. According to the College, “All faculty and incoming students are encouraged to read this selection as it will be included in the academic curriculum and in activities throughout the year.” Now even though my daughter is coming into the college as a higher level transfer student, the College still gave her a copy of the book so she would know what was going on.
I saw the book briefly when she got it, thought it was interesting because it was a graphic novel, and then thought nothing more about it. Until last week. It seems that a conservative action group and some parents are none too thrilled with the choice of Fun Home as freshman reading. In fact, Oran Smith, president and chief operating officer of Palmetto Family, went so far as to call the book pornographic. So with that kind of furor starting to brew in the papers and on TV, how could I resist reading the book to see what it was all about?
Do you want to know what I found? Well, what I found was a very well written story about a girl’s coming of age, how she dealt with finding her own identity, how she managed to love her father despite a difficult relationship with him that was only made more difficult by the discovery that he had a secret life, and then how all of this wraps around her father’s apparent suicide and the affect of that upon the entire family. Heavy, but pretty normal stuff for coming of age literature. The two things that set this work apart are that both the author / daughter and the father are gay, and that it is a graphic novel. Being a graphic novel means you get to actually see some of the situations that would just be verbally described in a regular literary work.