Imagine opening the drawer of an old desk, and finding the journal of a stranger, filled with clues about her life, and quite possibly, how she was murdered. That’s the basic idea behind Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson.
Part Murder Mystery, Part Scrapbook
Amy Zoe Mason is part murder mystery, part graphic novel, and part scrapbook. The Atkinsons tell the story of young wife and mother Amy, by combining journal entries, correspondence, newspaper clippings and other ephemera, all presented as if she had kept them inside an old book. They weave together the threads of a crumbling marriage, Amy’s spiral into depression over her husband’s move to Boston, and a beautiful but suspicious new friend, to slowly build a mystery. Hidden clues among the ephemera on each page hint at a crime, but each reader will have to draw their own conclusion at what’s really going on in this story.
Intriguing & Compelling
When I first heard about Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason, I was intrigued. I’ve tried reading graphic novels in the past, and didn’t find them satisfying. Amy Zoe Mason was described to me by an artist friend as a novel combined with a scrapbook, or a story-based altered book. That appealed to me because I’m an altered book artist myself. I’ve been taking old books apart, and using them to tell my own stories for many years. I wondered how that could possibly work in a commercial, printed book.
My conclusion is that it works very well. I found the story interesting, and the mystery compelling. Watching the clues unfold in the pages of the journal was really fascinating. As the story progressed, I found myself flipping back, looking for pieces of the puzzle that each page might contain, and clues I might have missed the first time. The book contains just enough text to move the story along, and in an interesting twist, is sometimes at odds with the visual clues that surround it.
Beyond being fascinated by the story, I admired the visual work that went into creating this book. As an altered book artist, I’ve done this sort of story-telling artwork in the past, and know it’s not easy to give a reader enough information, or the right information, to tell a complete story, while still creating visually interesting artwork. I felt Amy Zoe Mason struck just the right balance of these elements.
And, of course, the book appealed to the voyeur in me. I liked the experience if flipping through someone else’s journal, and reading her private thoughts. The Atkinsons captured that forbidden feeling of reading something you shouldn’t have seen very well with this book.
A Nod To Nick Bantock
As I read through Amy Zoe Mason, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine series. Bantock also uses visual clues to help tell his stories, combined with his brilliant original artwork. Original art takes a back seat in Amy Zoe Mason, which relies more on everyday ephemera as its visual elements.
While Bantock’s books are interactive, requiring the reader to pull items from envelopes and flip things over to continue reading the story, Amy Zoe Mason has been printed with flat pages that require no interaction. The reader is passive, simply viewing the arranged elements as presented on the page. I wished for a little of that forbidden thrill of peeking inside envelopes that Bantock’s books provide so well.
Worth the Price of Admission?
Is Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason worth the read? If you’re looking for a brilliantly crafted mystery story, or a stunning graphic novel, you may be a little disappointed in this one.
But, if you’re looking for an hour of fun, an interesting concept, and some fun visuals, this book might be just the ticket. I think altered book artists and scrapbook enthusiasts in particular would enjoy it. I enjoyed the book very much for what it was, and I’m glad I picked it up.