Hanging on by a Thread, written and drawn by Noémie Honein, follows her life after a cancer diagnosis at just twenty years old. The story starts at the diagnosis and takes us through the process of chemotherapy, radiation, and recovery. However, it’s much more complex than that. It quickly backtracks to before the diagnosis, with Honein experiencing symptoms without knowing the cause. The road to finding out she has cancer is a trial all on its own. Although, that’s nothing compared to the process of ridding herself of the disease. As time passes, she goes from a carefree young student to a patient haunted by pain. There’s nothing simple about learning to overcome and persevere. The more time that passes, the more new difficulties arise for her.
This graphic novel might have the most unique art style I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. The colors are mainly in bright pastels; there are creative uses of color for skin tones, hair, backgrounds, and everything in between. It looks as though the artist uses color pencils for everything except the text. This contrasts strongly with the usual process of inking, digital coloring, and lettering done in more traditional comics. It makes Hanging on by a Thread a truly one of a kind work. The world Honein depicts is vivid and full of so much life and color; it’s like a kaleidoscope.
The comic does have its difficulties though. The perspective shifts around at times as Honein incorporates elements of the past – not only her own, but that of her family too. A subplot follows Marie – her grandmother’s housekeeper for several generations. The story itself is interesting; it’s a good way to honor someone important to the author. But the way Honein weaves it in can be a bit clumsy at times. Since this is a slice of life story, it meanders through various topics as the author sees fit. This strategy is viable, especially since the main throughline always stays the same. Unfortunately though, it sometimes feels as if Honein tries to cover too much. Time slips around as well, sometimes leaving gaps in the reader’s knowledge of what happens.
On the whole, Hanging on by a Thread is a clear, thoughtful account of what the world looks like for someone recovering from a potentially deadly illness. Honein’s pain, even in the face of her attempts to minimize and make the best of things, is evident. She wants to spare her family from some of the struggle. But they make themselves such a big part of her cancer; it takes her a long time to untangle herself from not only the cancer, but her family as well. This is the major underlying conflict of the story. People are often closest to their family, especially in times of struggle. Unfortunately, this can lead to codependency.
Honein’s journey not only covers her freedom from her illness, but her freedom from the stifling effects that overprotectiveness induces. She learns to accept herself, despite the changes she undergoes, and to move towards healthy relationships with the people she loves.
What part of Honein’s recovery struck you the most? Are you touched by her journey? If you’d like to read this heartwarming tale of illness and family, Hanging on by a Thread is available through Black Panel Press. Tell us what you think in the comments down below or drop us a line on our Facebook or Twitter!
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