Friday, April 20, 2018
Books

Review: 'Chopsticks' by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral novel beyond words

The first indication that Chopsticks is significantly more than just a novel is its trailer, which encourages readers to watch, listen, feel, look, discover, view and imagine. An exercise in multimedia storytelling, Chopsticks is a book, but it's also an iPhone and iPad app peppered with videos, songs and instant messages that bring the story to life in a way that isn't possible with words alone. Chopsticks is a collaboration between author Jessica Anthony and designer Rodrigo Corral, the creative director of Farrar, Straus & Giroux who came up with the covers for bestsellers by Chuck Palahniuk, Jay-Z and others. It isn't the first novel for young adults to exploit the Web in conjunction with print storytelling, but it is inventive and compelling.

Chopsticks is an artful love story cloaked in mystery. It opens with a two-page photo of tree branches, followed by another spread of a fence casting prison-bar shadows, then a collage of TV screen grabs as newscasters report the disappearance of 17-year-old Glory Fleming. Glory is a world-famous piano prodigy from the Bronx who, we learn from newspaper clippings, was once loved for her fusion of classical music with songs from modern bands such as Pavement and Wilco. At the time of her disappearance, however, she was living in a mental institution obsessively hammering out Chopsticks.

To explain Glory's disappearance, the book then flashes back 18 months. Readers enter Glory's house, then flip through the family photo album. Glory and her family aren't real, of course. They're actors, as the credits at the back of the book make clear. But presenting them through photographs lends authenticity and emotionality to this story of a girl's descent into madness, which morphs into a romance when a boy named Frank Mendoza moves in next door.

Many of Frank's drawings are included in the book's text. In the app version, they're often animated. Links to videos Frank shoots are likewise referenced in the print version of Chopsticks through video stills and YouTube addresses embedded in snippets of instant messaging that the two send each other. Readers of the e-version can link through and watch them.

Glory's story would be intriguing enough as text, but the use of real-world objects to visually play out the action is in a way more revealing. Readers see signs of Glory's mental impairment through marked-up passages in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. They feel her desperation when she passes out on a keyboard, her devotion to Frank through written postcards. Pictures are not only worth a thousand words in Chopsticks. In hands as talented as Anthony's and Corral's, they're just as emotionally resonant.

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