All My Friends Are Dead, by Avery Monsen & Jory John
This is a book that has a touching but somewhat unsettling combination of poignancy and humor, which is all the more intriguing given the book’s subject matter. As is sometimes the case, I find interesting books while browsing the library, and so it was here. I am someone who muses a good deal on the subject of loneliness , and so it is that I am perhaps among the people who would find the greatest degree of emotional resonance in a book like this one. Plenty of people are willing to listen and laugh, but my own personal experiences in struggling with isolation keep me from laughing at the beings caught in the situations of loneliness described in this book and rather give me a sense of empathy with them. I think that sense of empathy makes a great deal of difference in how one takes a book like this, because the book is short enough and simple enough that there are many approaches one can take to it. I chose to take it as a clever but heartfelt look at loneliness, an attempt to put it outside of our ordinary context and to encourage us to reflect on other lonely beings in our world.
This picture book with captions looks at situations where beings are lonely. It opens with a dinosaur and a dodo bird reflecting on their isolation and then looks at an elderly man who has lost most of his friends to death before losing the last one. Then a tree reflects on the fact that all of his friends are end tables who don’t even like him while a yeti and person pretending to be Nessie talk about friends who are hoaxes. There are puns about those whose friends are undead (a zombie) or bread (a baker) as well as the different types of isolation that one has from having all virtual friends or being stuck on an isolated desert isle with someone who doesn’t appreciate your sense of humor. And so it goes through the book as beings show themselves to be isolated for all kinds of reasons, because of obsolescence, being a lonely sock, being rejected by squirrels, expiration dates, scurvy, being scary clowns who make children cry, fashion, hobbies like ventriloquism, melting, the taste of people in yummy fried chicken, and so on. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that plenty of the reader’s favorite characters have particularly poignant ends.
What is it that gives a book like this such a complex emotional range given its extreme simplicity of material? In part, this book’s excellence is due to the combination of witty and touching dialogue and appealing drawings that paint everything that is a subject in a friendly way. From milk bottles to dinosaurs to zombies to lonely trees, every isolated being is portrayed in such a way as to be friendly to the reader. If the reader of this particular book struggles with feelings of loneliness but has a great deal of emotional maturity and is able to think in less than self-absorbed ways, a book like this is a bittersweet reminder that loneliness is the fate of beings for all kinds of reasons. The circumstances of life and the lies that people spread about others can create all kinds of isolation, and the beings involved in this book are framed in such a way that they clearly do not deserve the isolation that they face. None of these beings are portrayed as being at fault in their isolation, just as beings who suffer being alone. Perhaps I am reading too much into a book like this, but I found that this book had the right blend of comedy and genuine pathos, making it a book of surprising depth and impressive brevity.
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