Rave by Jessica Campbell and published by Drawn and Quarterly presents the timeless teenage struggle to understand the world inside a vivid portrayal of the strange times of the early 2000s. It tells a story of Lauren, a fifteen-year-old doing her best to survive pressures of parents, peers, and schoolwork. She serves as an everyperson navigating the transitional times not only in life but in the culture of the era as traditional values were reinvigorated while lifestyles beyond the predefined “normal” became recognized.
Just as life is complicated with numerous layers, especially as a young adult, so is the plot of Rave. On the outermost, it is Lauren trying to navigate her world, being raised in a conservative home with strong ties to their evangelical church while experiencing other perspectives through school. When she is assigned a class project on human evolution with partner Mariah, whose family practices Wicca, Lauren simply goes along with it.
They decide to study at her partner’s house since evolution textbooks are not allowed at Lauren’s, not to mention her partner has dial-up internet. Things go well, and even better when a mutual attraction is discovered, but then it all becomes extremely complicated as Lauren listens to an energetic sermon on the sins of same-sex relationships.
While the story of Lauren and her relationship with Mariah drives Rave, it is sprinkled with numerous asides and scenes Lauren watches that give an expansive flavor to the world. Much of it shows the high school universe, such as the girl who makes a poor choice in wearing a tube top for running in P.E. or as when a bully asks a student if he would like some Go-Gurt and then proceeds to empty the entire squeezable tube into his locker through the slits creating a mess that will only get worse once the door is opened.
Wide glimpses are also given to the world of evangelical churches, where the pregnant pastor’s teen daughter is brought to the front to be prayed over and a boy explains to Lauren how he expects his future wife to be pregnant every nine months so they can have as many kids as possible. Things get to an even grander level at a Christian rave, where the leader cheers on dancing since Jesus was the first raver, according to his biblical references, but that girls should watch out from dressing or acting provocatively since that is committing adultery against their future husbands.
The art in Rave is seemingly ironic as being black-and-white throughout, two options: one or the other. Yet Campbell uses the two apparent opposites with complex textures that give uncanny depth and shadow, not grays but a complex medley of different lines, angles, and intensities that make the panels rich with meaning. Some create stark contrasts, such as how Lauren’s darker clothes differ from a friend’s bright ones. Others are the same stacked onto each other, like the bully’s black shirt blending into the black lockers as if he were part of the world, a force of nature more than a character. Rave culminates on a two-page spread showing the whole landscape in black and white yet utterly complicated with trees, grass, mountains, and blank sky.