Everyone thinks they can do a story of college life, because it seems so simple, especially to the majority of the audience who’ve been through academia. That’s not the case, because realistic characters, and especially dialogue, are harder to do than you might think. Tyler Page gets it right with Nothing Better. He even covers a subject most are afraid to tackle in depth, religious belief, with sensitivity and understanding.
Jane is newly away from home and her perfect family. She’s never questioned the Lutheran faith she was raised in, until she meets her roommate Katt, an artistic girl who takes care of herself and doesn’t believe in God. The two don’t fight; instead, they warily get to know each other. Both positions are explored, although the two make mistakes (some serious) in their assumptions about each other. The setup makes a natural exploration of philosophical questions as the two learn to deal with worldviews that differ from their own. That’s a necessary struggle to face before one becomes an adult.
At the same time, they’re dealing with the expected college temptations: dating, sex, drinking, life decisions. Jane’s other new acquaintance, Darby, is an animation fan who loves The Iron Giant. The two find themselves in a “is this a date or just two friends hanging out?” situation that’s so common at their age. From the art, it’s clear that he is interested, but she doesn’t get it. She’s inexperienced at putting herself in the place of others to understand their motivations, so she doesn’t even seem to recognize that there’s a question. After they watch the movie, she can’t stop thinking about it (a great choice both for the character and the author’s purposes), which spawns her curiosity into Katt’s beliefs, starting the process of the two girls becoming friends.
Tyler’s characters are simple and expressive, exaggeratedly so when necessary, backed up by old-fashioned readable hand lettering. He’s got a good grasp of the quiet moments that reveal feeling, as well as ways to make his supporting cast distinctive yet recognizable without resorting to cliché. The orientation activities are familiar and well-observed, as is Jane’s sense of solitude while she figures out where she fits in. Their shared activities are believable and evocative. By the end of this volume, both Jane and Katt are transitioning to life on their own.
Find out more at stylishvittles.com. (The publisher provided a review copy.)