Today I was staring at my book shelf wondering what gem to pick out of it’s shelves. I have a good amount of books I’ve picked up over the years that I have yet to enjoy and today I was looking to my book shelf to inspire me. Perusing through my selection I thumbed through historical fiction, fantasies and even a few biographies I’ve been itching to read. Then I stumbled across Long Walk to Valhalla, a graphic novel by Adam Smith and Matthew Fox that I picked up a few weeks ago at a fangirl night. I stared at the cover for a few moments and knew this was my next read. Something told me I was in for a good story, but nothing could’ve prepared me for this…
Our story is about Rory, a young man who grew up in rural Arkansas with his dead-beat father and older brother Joe who seems to be intellectually disabled. The story opens up with a flash back, where Rory and Joe are going to pick up basically Sudafed. Then it flashes to I am guessing the present and it shows Rory’s car breaking down on the side of the road. While trying to figure out what his next move is a small girl names Sylvia appears and tells him she is a Valkyrie sent by the Norse god Odin to take Rory to Valhalla, the paradise for warriors.
“Rory of Arkansas, you’re gonna die today.”
The novel goes through several stories about Rory growing up with his brother Joe and how he took care of him. It shows them having to deal with their father who is a meth dealer and doesn’t care about them at all. The story also talks about how Joe can see these figures all around him and he becomes apprehensive when they appear. Rory refers to them as the “pretty things” and always has to talk Joe down, describing these things he can’t see and telling Joe how pretty they are to calm him down. Sylvia talks about how Rory defended Joe when their friend Tom called him the “r” word and how that was bravery only a warrior could possess. While Rory thinks this is all very cute Sylvia decides to show some of her power and unleashes the world filled with “pretty things” to Rory, showing him what his brother has been able to see all along.
Sylvia then slowly takes Rory through some painful memories, including going to his mother’s funeral and the death of his daughter, Pearl. This story is especially heartbreaking when Rory talks about it. Rory had a girlfriend, Katie, as a teenager and they became young parents. The plan was that after the baby was born they would run away with Joe and start new somewhere else. Well, when Katie has the baby early Rory takes his new family and Joe back to his house to pack a few things and leave When his father comes out and tries to get a rise out of Rory, he gives in. Rory takes his father back into the house and beats him to within an inch of his life. While this is happening Joe, who is holding baby Pearl, starts to see the pretty things surrounding the car and runs off with the baby. It is unclear what exactly happens but when Rory is finally able to catch up with them, Pearl has died. Rory tries to tell Sylvia she passed naturally from being born too early but he knows that is a lie.
The story comes to a beautiful end when Rory finally accepts that he is going to die and go to Valhalla when he tells Sylvia he needs to do something first. He goes to a church picnic in time to witness his father get into a fight with his girlfriend and get arrested. Then Rory walks out to the cemetery where Joe works and visits Pearl’s grave. Joe talks about how he enjoys taking care of those people, and wants to be more like Rory. Rory then sees Sylvia and understands that it’s Joe, not him that needs to go to Valhalla and Sylvia agrees. The last few pages show Sylvia taking Joe and Rory turning around to now being able to see the pretty things that haunted his brother. Sylvia shouts back that she will come back for Rory when he is done fighting on Earth, and Rory turns to see Katie…
This story was a beautiful testament to care takers. It shows how they can become consumed with taking care of another person and sometimes forget to live their own life. They just go on auto pilot and go day to day not really living or experiencing anything. Rory is the perfect example of someone who has given his life for others and forgotten to take care of himself. When Sylvia shows him his own past, Rory has this realization that maybe he should’ve blamed Joe for more, but how could he? Joe never knew any better and Rory never knew all that Joe was actually seeing. The story is one of family, love and acceptance. The artwork is black, white and blue and beautifully mirrors the somewhat somber tone of the story. However as the story comes to a close the reader is left with a sense of hope both for Rory who can start again and Joe who is going on to a better place. It reminds us to never take anyone in your life for granted and remember that we will never know what others are going through until we walk a mile in their shoes. Great novel, highly recommend it to anyone looking for an afternoon read.
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