3 out of 5
Many, many people try, but no one captures the mix of go-nowhere aggression and ennui of teendom quite like Chuck Forsman. This might be because of his willingness to go dark and nasty: to not swing back around to uplifting morals; to let things drift in nothingness until the last page. The flip side of that wallowing is that it makes some of his works hard to parse in terms of the intention; stories about the unsureness of What Things Mean are presented without every actually voicing that question, as though the author is using the medium as a diary for feelings as they occur…
…Which means all sortsa meta things for I Am Not Okay With This, as it’s narrated by teenage Syd via her diary (a communication means suggested to her by a school counselor), telling us about her rather tragic and emotionally confusing day-to-day experiences while also avoiding any Big Questions. The book also gets an extra layer to it via Syd’s “secret:” seeming psy-type powers that allow her to throw things around with her mind, but that only tend to be put to use (purposefully or not) when Syd is overly emotional, whether that’s during moments of anger, or sadness, or arousal. There’s the X-Men parallel, there – mutant powers as stand-ins for the mysteries and madness of hormones – but it’s Chuck Forsman, so this teen has sex and realizes she has to deny herself that pleasure when her powers accidentally hurt her partner; she gives a rival – her friend’s boyfriend – a nosebleed, and things escalate from there. The scenes without this layer are rather powerful, as Chuck writes Syd’s relationships and homelife as a whirlpool of love and hate to which many of us can relate from our youthy times, but then dips it in the kind of realities (sexual, emotional abuses) that ring a bit too true, told in Syd’s half-aware narration. Drawn in a Charles Schulz-y, round-headed simplicity to offset this darkness, when narrowed down to these slice of life moments, the book scratches at profundity. But the powers thing necessitates some story distractions and deeper concepts that don’t get to feel fully fleshed out or necessarily earned.
Told in a longer form, with maybe less of an inclination to shock, I Am Not Okay With This could be one of the better slice-of-life depressive tell-alls on the indie scene. Whittled down to its short chapters, the extra wrinkle of psy abilities is inspired, but also makes the story feel like it has to play things a bit too open-ended. Definitely an interesting read, and an equally interesting storytelling experiment.