by Miss Lasko-Gross
Religion is an invention of man. It has been used to educate- but only the accepted doctrines. It has been used to control, to murder, to brutalize; one only has to look at any paper to see another tiresome example. And it doesn’t like to be mocked- ask the Charlie Hebdo staff. As the late, great Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Religion poisons everything”. And the only remedy to it is education- which is why the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai for attending school. It has been a hallmark of totalitarian religion to silence questions, to shutter schools or, in the case of some school districts in Texas, teach the fanciful myth of Genesis in science classes. It was almost as if they didn’t want anyone to learn anything…at all.
It is to this grotesque state that Miss Lasko-Gross has given us Henni, a beautiful, compelling and angry graphic novel that relates a young girls banishment and (hopefully) triumph over the forces of her society that demands total conformity and obeisance. The Temple elders of her village demand bribes before the families arranged marriage can go forward, and her questioning of their edicts brings a swift rebuke, and forces Henni to explore life outside the arbitrary boundaries of her town. When she learns that she can step past the lines -“Concrete proof we’ve been held in place by nothing more than irrational fear”- she doesn’t look back, evidentially learning of her father’s fate on the way to breaking free and living her life.
Lasko-Gross doesn’t end the novel so much as it stops when Henni disappears into the void, and it’s the readers guess as to which end is for her. Will she prosper or fall? It’s called free will. Henni echoes Atwood and Orwell with her triumphant creation of individualism in the face of a corrupt, controlling tyranny. It is the sort of book one reads- and re-reads- to stiffen your spine against the evils of the modern world. As long as books such as Henni exist- and aren’t censored by petty tyrants dressed in desert robes or stuffed into three-piece suits- there is hope. But as this brief, stirring book shows, once you bow on one knee, all is lost. Buy this book and read it to your children.
While you still can.