Review: Hugo The boy with the curious mark
Hugo is unable to love the mark that signifies his difference so unmistakably, yet he cannot deny, it is part of the person he is; part of his whole. His wise grandmother assures him his difference is as wonderful as he is but this does not alleviate the isolation that engulfs him.
As with many youngsters presented with this type of identity verification, Hugo embarks on a search for self and someone else who might be just like him. It’s a long rainbow-less trip until, finally, across a crowded train platform, he spots a flash of red and orange and blue and green. Someone marked like him. He reaches for her but the crowd swallows her. Defeated, Hugo resorts to conforming, covering his mark to appear ‘like everyone else’.
Then a new girl enters his classroom, the girl from the train bearing her own curious mark. From then on, Hugo’s world begins to hum with possibility, sense and colour.
Hugo is the divinely inaugural creation from new publishing kid on the block, Red Paper Kite. Yohann Devezy makes a stunning debut with this two-armed-hug story that embraces differences and speaks gently to those children who know who they are in their hearts but struggle to find common ground on the island of acceptability because of their marked differences. It is a story that most obviously addresses gender identity and questions of self-worth, however also reaches out to anyone who has ever felt the confusion and isolation of nonconformity simply because they may look, feel, act or sound different from what is misguidedly perceived as 'the norm'.
I love the capacity picture books have to normalise hitherto hard-to-discuss situations, topics considered too large, too scary, or too difficult for kids to handle when in fact they are living them already. Hugo is such a picture book. It is sensitive and benign yet delivers a powerful sense of hope, of true enlightenment. Not only is the narrative flecked with colour references that affect mood with every page turn, Manuela Adreani’s restrained illustrations reflect all of Hugo’s despairs, desperations and joys in an elegant, contemporary way.
Each page is drenched in muted pencil and water coloured drawings that subtly display a rainbow of colour: the dress of the rushing city crowds, the scatter of carnival confetti, the array of beach swimwear. In this beautifully clever way, both artist and author depict Hugo’s emotional exile until at last he learns to ride the rainbow of uniqueness in his own special way. This story invites young readers to make it their own too, by colouring in a handful of line illustrations thoughtfully included at the end of the book. Brilliant.
Coincidentally, whilst reading Hugo, I was immersed in the adult novel, This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, an equally moving, beautiful, tragic, uplifting story (fully deserving of so many adjectives) depicting how difficult it is to find the ‘middle way’ of being when you are marked as different . I recommend both without reserve.
Author: Yohann Devezy
Illustrator: Manuela Adreani
Publisher: Red Paper Kite, $26.99
Publication Date: 1 April 2019
For ages: 5+
Type: Picture book
Buy the Book: Booktopia