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Here, There Be Dragons

Debi Gliori explores dragons as a metaphor for depression in Night Shift, a picture book aimed at teens and adults.

Here, There Be Dragons

BOOK REPORT for Night Shift by Debi Gliori (author and illustrator)

Cover Story: Jinkies!
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: Short and (Bitter)sweet
Arty Art: 50 Shades of Gray
Bonus Factors: Mental Illness, Author’s Note
Relationship Status: You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Cover Story: Jinkies!

At first glance, the cover design looks like dragons and steampunk had a baby. Look a little closer, and you will find subtle but strategic clues that relate to parts of the story, like the matches scattered around the outside of the frame and the feather taking the place of the “i” in “night.”

The Deal:

Night Shift is about a girl who lives with depression, depicted in this book as dragons. The dragons follow her around everywhere, making her feel tired, lost, and afraid. Realizing she can’t outrun them, she instead focuses on honing her “night skills,” the coping mechanisms that enable her to survive when her dragons are telling her that she can’t.

BFF Charm: Yay

A big part of depression and other mental illnesses is the fear that you are alone in feeling this way. Opening up about my anxiety to my friends and family was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done (second only to ziplining—NEVER AGAIN), but the response has been mostly supportive. I was astounded at how many of my friends revealed their own struggles with mental health that I had no idea they were going through because they were too afraid to talk about it. The protagonist of Night Shift needs a support system to know that she’s not alone in this fight.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

This is definitely not a love story, but for some reason we get a random glimpse of her boobs while she’s in the shower. While I do enjoy a good boob, it felt unnecessary and out of place in this book. The only explanation I can think of is that perhaps it’s meant to show the character’s vulnerability, but the entire rest of the book already does that by nature of its subject matter. It feels like its true purpose is to say, “Hey, we know it’s a picture book, but it’s not for kids! See, boobs!”

Talky Talk: Short and (Bitter)sweet

Depression can be difficult to describe, especially to those who haven’t experienced it. The author gives us short, simple sentences and lets the pictures do the heavy lifting:

Arty Art: 50 Shades of Gray

The drawings in this book were done in charcoal, allowing Gliori to play with light, shadow, and smudging. The color gray conveys a sense of bleakness, which is a fitting choice for a book about what it’s like to experience depression, and it makes the few pops of color really stand out.

Bonus Factor: Mental Illness

I kept my anxiety under wraps for a long time, until I read Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy, a humorous but raw depiction of her struggles with mental illness. Her words gave me the spark I needed to be able to talk openly about living with anxiety. Unfortunately, mental health is still surrounded by stigma, such as the incredibly damaging idea that if we just think happy thoughts, we can snap ourselves out of depression (which, if you replace “depression” with, say, “Alzheimer’s,” most people would agree is absurd). Night Shift addresses this by including the ill-informed advice people with depression often receive from those who don’t understand it, such as, “Chin up,” and “Think of the starving millions.”

This picture is the perfect response to those who think happiness is a switch we can turn on and off at will.

Words are powerful tools; the more books there are that tackle mental illness, the more people will talk accurately and honestly about it, and the more that people talk about it, the more it becomes okay to talk about.

Bonus Factor: Author’s Note

As in If I Was Your Girl, the author’s note in Night Shift explains a lot about her thought process: acknowledging that her experience is not the experience of everyone who is trans has depression, hoping those who are trans have depression can find something to relate to, and providing a starting point for those who are cis don’t have depression to understand what it’s like. It’s where we learn things that aren’t included in the narrative but give us perspective that helps shape it. I especially appreciated Gliori’s explanation of why she chose dragons:

I have used dragons to represent depression. This is partly because of their legendary ability to turn a fertile realm into a blackened, smoking ruin and partly because popular mythology shows them as monstrous opponents with a tendency to pick fights with smaller creatures. I’m not particularly brave or resourceful, and after so many years of combat I have to admit to a certain weariness, but I will arm-wrestle dragons for eternity if it means that I can help anyone going through a similar struggle.

There was one thing (mentioned in a Q-and-A sent to me along with the book) that I wish had made it into the author’s note: that night skills, “the tools you need to get you through the dark days,” can include medication. I think this would have been important to acknowledge somewhere in the book to help dispel the misconception that mental health is not as legit as physical health.

Casting Call:

Younger Christina Ricci as the protagonist

She has firsthand experience with mental illness (and isn't afraid to show a little boob on camera).

Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion as depression

Relationship Status: You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Book, I can relate to so much of what you’re going through. I’ll be there to remind you that you are not alone, that depression lies, and that you are enough.

FTC Full Disclosure: This book was provided by Razorbill. I received no gold Galleons, silver Sickles, bronze Knuts, or Muggle money for this review. Night Shift will be available on September 5.

Britt's photo About the Author: Britt lives in San Francisco, CA. When she’s not sprawled out on her classroom floor after a long day of droppin’ knowledge, she can be found at home reading YA and/or reminding Netflix that yes she is still watching, thank you very much. Her patronus is a bespectacled giraffe.