The Only Child by Guojing
The single-page “author’s note” which introduces this stupendous, otherwise-wordless wonder is a full story unto itself: Guojing reveals her lonely childhood growing up in 1980s China under the one-child policy. Her parents worked, and she was often cared for by her grandmother. But sometimes when adults were just not available, she was left all alone. “This experience was common in many families at that time,” she explains. “I belonged to a very lonely generation of children.”
At age 6, Guojing’s father put her on a bus to her grandmother’s – to travel there on her own. She fell asleep, woke to an almost empty bus, got off in a panic, and somehow found her way to safety.
That defining event is the basis for this magnificent graphic debut, in which words prove superfluous. While home alone, the eponymous ‘only child’ exhausts all her favorite activities; she bundles up in multiple layers, ventures out in the snow, and boards a bus that she hopes will take her to her grandmother. But sleep takes her somewhere else, and she finds herself in a distant forest with no one to hear her cries. As she wipes her tears, a majestic stag appears and leads her to a sanctuary high in the clouds.
Meanwhile, her parents have returned to an empty home to find a left-behind note, “Gone to see grandma,” in the most achingly childish handwriting – and their panicked search begins. By book’s end, magic will have happened, a family will be reunited, and a precious only child protected once more in slumberland.
In sepia-toned, elegantly muted, intricately detailed sketches, Guojing channels memory, bittersweet reality, enchantment, worry, imagination, and awe to create a mesmerizing volume of utter perfection. Even beyond the exquisite pages, the story’s impact lingers and inspires – for anyone who has ever felt estranged and isolated (haven’t we all?), Guojing offers hope: “I’ve realized it is easy to become lost, but if I look hard enough, there is always a path … guiding the way back home.”