For the last review this week I am looking at a graphic novel. Refresh Refresh is by far the darkest and saddest of these stories. Like Operation Oleander, Refresh Refresh is set in recent history. Josh’s father and Cody’s father are Marine Reservists who are deployed to Iraq. They live in a small, unnamed Oregon town where a lot of the men have gone to war. For many of the families the men’s absence is a financial as well as practical burden. Cody’s power is cut off even though his mother has a job and his father is being paid by the military. His mother says that they are in financial trouble from losing his father’s overtime pay, although she works extra hours at the factory, so she is hardly ever home for him and his small brother.
The title, Refresh Refresh, comes from the action of refreshing the computer browser to see if any email has arrived and at the beginning both boys do this continuously, almost obsessively. As I said in my post on Operation Oleander, electronic communication is both a blessing and and a curse. In wrenching panels we see the boys repeatedly looking at their computer screens and seeing the cheerful but heartbreaking message, “Welcome! You have 0 unread messages.”
Refresh Refresh does a good job of portraying the complex feelings military service creates in the families left behind. Josh and Cody are about to graduate from high school, but in their small town there are not many opportunities open to them. Most of their friends feel they have to work in a local factory–“the plant”–or join the military. The boys resent that their fathers are gone and see the negatives of military service, but at the same time are proud of them, leading to ambivalence, “This is what we all wanted: to please our fathers, to make them proud–even thought they had left us.” Josh wants to go to university–a fact that he hides from his friends. His distant mother and stepfather are willing to pay for college, but if he gets bad news from Iraq what decision will he make?
The artwork reflects the dark subject matter, with severe lines and somber, drab colors, mostly in army green and grey. Try Refresh Refresh for a stark and uncompromising look at military family life, especially for reservists. Refresh Refresh is a violent and often disturbing graphic novel suitable for adults and older teens.
Check the WRL catalog for Refresh, Refresh.