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Swallow Me Whole

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  2,624 ratings  ·  298 reviews
Swallow Me Whole is a love story carried by rolling fog, terminal illness, hallucination, apophenia, insect armies, secrets held, unshakeable faith, and the search for a master pattern to make sense of one's unraveling. Two adolescent stepsiblings hold together amidst schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, family breakdown, animal telepathy, misguided love, and the tinie ...more
Hardcover, 216 pages
Published December 2nd 2008 by Top Shelf Productions (first published July 8th 2008)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,624 ratings  ·  298 reviews

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David Schaafsma
Revision of review 4/9/17

Powell worked for several years with young people with developmental disabilities, something I also did for a shorter time. He also ran a punk record label and performed in several bands. . . and oh, yeah, does these amazing, detailed graphic novels and stories, including the series that took him and his co-authors to The National Book Award in 2016, March, the graphic memoir from Sen. John Lewis of the Civil Rights movement in the US, which Powell illustrate
Seth T.
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comics
It's almost cliche at this point to praise Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole, but it's not like there's any honest alternative. The book is just too good for anything else. Talented illustrator? Check. Talented storyteller? Check. Imaginative? Funny? Insightful? Worthwhile? All systems are go. Powell's art reminds me of some delicate hybrid between Craig Thompson and David Lapham—and amusingly, Swallow Me Whole is like some strange cross-pollination between Blankets and Silverfish.

Okay, well not really. But kinda.
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009, comics
Damnit! I just wrote a long ass review and the goddamn internet ate it up and shit it out in some unknowable aether. Fuckers.


The review was good, but now you're just going to have to trust me on that because there's no way in fucking hell I'm re-typing it.

Damnit! I just wrote a long ass review and the goddamn internet ate it up and shit it out in some unknowable aether. Fuckers.


The review was good, but now you're just going to have to trust me on that because there's no way in fucking hell I'm re-typing it.

Anyway, I've been following Nate Powell since I found his punk-inspired minis, and he was and is one of the best draftsmen in comics today. That said, he often spirals off into doodle-y dream-narratives with tons of boring-to-read experimentations. He was and is great at straight-forward narratives, but seems to be bored by them.

In this book, he sublimates his love for experimentation with a solid story about a young girl in a family who seem to be predisposed to schizophrenia. It's powerful stuff, circumventing the tired coming of age bullshit with unreliable narrators, an obsession with death and a sick and dying grandmother, and an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy that is punctuated with frequent flights of fantasy, which are sometimes whimsical, but more often frightening and portent of doom. The narrative proceeds in fits and bursts and often follows an odd logic, which cumulates with a tour-de-force ending, which might be metaphorical, might be from the POV of an unreliable narrator, or might be an intrusion of the unreal upon reality. Whatever it is, it works, and is a hell of a way for Powell to combine his love and his strength as a cartoonist.

Nicola Mansfield
Nov 14, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is deep and difficult for me to write about as I'm not sure I "got" the whole thing. I'll make an attempt at my impressions. Two siblings both have psychological problems. The girl, Ruth, is the main character and suffers from delusions, paranoia, schizophrenia and OCD while her brother seems to suffer on a lesser degree from delusions. They also have their grandmother living at home with them as she is dying and also delusional. The book follows the girl's descent into madness while t ...more
Sarah Beaudoin
Jan 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
I expected Swallow Me Whole to be a sweet, melancholy story of adolescence. I was unprepared for how disturbing and sad it is. I was also disturbed to get partway into the book and realize that the awesomely cute character Powell had drawn in my signed copy was actually an anthropomorphic pill.

There are a lot of pills in Swallow Me Whole. The story centers around siblings Ruth and Perry, who each have their hidden adolescent demons which manifest in different ways. Perry draws and Ru
Derek Royal
May 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is another work of Powell's I've had for awhile, but I've just been lax in getting to it. And shame on me for waiting, as this is truly an engaging story. I'm more familiar with Powell's historically based comics more than I have been the fiction, but here is a shining example of what the creator is capable of pulled purely from his experiences and imagination. I read this as a result of our recent review of Powell's latest book, You Don't Say, part of one of our review episodes of the podc ...more
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novels
This was strange, very strange, but captivating.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
An Eisner Award winner ! I just discovered Nate Powell this year and after finishing this volume I plan to read March.

The main theme of the book is mental illness. I’ve struggled with my own mental health issues for the entirety of my adult life. I’ve never experienced the severe hallucinations that the main character Ruth endured but I know the turmoil that an episode can inflict on family and friends.

Powell’s art and inking were amazing. He truly is a gifted artist. Recommended.
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Teens with Mental Illness....was okay.
Tom Waters
Oct 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Hook, Line & Sinker: Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole

Once a year (at best), I come across a title so powerful that it compels me to stop back at the comic store and devour everything else that the author has written. From every standpoint imaginable, Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell is an unmitigated masterpiece. You can read four dozen black and white titles this year before you find something that even begins to approach the beauty, scope, originality and genius of this story. I’
Richard Van Camp
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You know this is a great graphic novel if you’ve done your best to read it twice and then Google the title so you can read what this book was actually about! Nate Powell pushes what illustrated literature can achieve in Swallow Me Whole because a movie, a novel, a mobisode, a poem, a short story—any other genre couldn’t accomplish what’s been achieve here. This novel is about two step siblings suffering from mental illness. I was confused exactly about which character was afflicted with schizoph ...more
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: comics
I had such high hopes for a longer comic by Nate Powell, but this book really fell short of my expectations. A lot of the story was hard to follow, which may have been somewhat intentional since the story deals with schizophrenia, but unfortunately that doesn't make it any less difficult to understand. If he had done a better job moving between external narrator and character experience, I would have had more tolerance for some of the confusion. For example, I discovered that the main characters ...more
Jul 28, 2011 added it
Shelves: ya, graphic-novels
I didn't like this book. It was really confusing and hard to follow - partially because the characters were not introduced in a clear way in the beginning and partially because the drawings were so muddled it was often hard to tell what you were looking at. Some of that was stylistic choices - I guess this is what it feels to be schizophrenic? - but really it just made the book confusing to the point where it was hard to care about any of the characters because you never really knew what was goi ...more
Apr 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Engaging, mysterious, beautfiully drawn.
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
(Note: I am writing this review/read this review for a class but, still took the time to think critically about the story. I read it all the way through and want to be transparent about the context around this review)

“Swallow Me Whole” gives the reader a deep and complex look into the effects of schizophrenia, while also weaving it into a humbling tale of growing up and the bonds of family. We follow stepsiblings Ruth and Perry (though Ruth is the center focus) as they are faced with
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: graphic novel readers, teens, mental illness
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ella Boyd-Wong
An important thing that I've discussed in multiple different classrooms spanning multiple different topics is the question of how format and content relate tot each other within the context of literature. Does this book need to be written in first-person? Is it important that this is a poem, and not a short story or an essay?
Powell's "Swallow Me Whole" is an excellent example of why the format used in presenting the content is an extremely important (if not the most important) aspect in determi
Luke Wilson
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
This was a bit of an impulse buy, but the fact that it won an Eisner and was primarily about mental illness was enough incentive to get it. And I liked it a bunch--a lot of subtle complexities come from the chaotic use of panel placement, erratic illustrations, and general dissociating mood. It's weird and each page needs to be closely examined in order to gather everything from it, but that's one of its strong points. Using the format of graphic novelization to not just illustrate the story, bu ...more
George K. Ilsley
There seemed to be way too much happening in this graphic narrative. So many threads knotted up in a tangled mess. Some speech balloons were in the tiniest script -- once I started skipping them I should have just packed it in. This book is probably well done but was just not for me and my struggling eyesight.
Ian Carpenter
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Nate Powell is incredible at everything he does. This book is beautiful and moving and elusive in the best way. Dealing with grief, obsession, aging, mental illness - it makes no argument, pleads no case, just tells a story mired in these things and admits how full of ache and beauty lives touched by that can be. Loved it.
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
This was one of the first purchases I made at one of my first Comic-Con. Nate Powell himself talked me into,the purchase after we enjoyed a brief conversation about the nature of comic criticism. I offhandedly mentioned thinking about how comics can illustrate (literally) intangible things, like time. He suggested, as all good salesmen do, this book as he renders images of mental illnesses.

Mental illness, in this case schizophrenia, can be hard for visual narratives because the disability itsel
Dec 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Summary: Two step-siblings struggle with mental disorders, one plagued by imaginary bugs and voices of dead creatures, the other by a tiny wizard on his pencil who tells him what to do.

Verdict: A solid but strange piece with a few flaws.

Yay!: Graphic novel format is a terrific way to treat the topic of hallucinatory disorders, because the reader can see what the character sees. Occasionally the reader doesn't know if they are looking at reality or delusion, but that's the
Peter N. Trinh
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
A very surreal look, and an extremely insane take on sequential art. Of course, that was the goal, so such indeed does the comic justice.

Unfortunately, it's not of my typical fare, so I didn't enjoy this work as much as I probably should have. While the setting is very familiar to most, there is no development of characters or setting added to the story; much of it is meant to be understood already, and the comic has an atmosphere that may be alienating to some readers.

Aug 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
My favourite graphic novel to date, Swallow Me Whole in a consuming glimpse into the life of a family with hereditary mental illness. Using dark and dream-like graphics and sparse dialogue, Powell masterfully develops the tone of the novel, and he easily convinces you that mental illness is another dimension into which anyone can easily slip.

Right from the start, the book is rich in symbolism - the first page of the book shows a dejected frog being preserved in a specimen jar. Later,
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I decided to read this book after reading an article in which famous comic book writers were asked to recommend to readers some of their favorite graphic novels. Jeff Lemire, of whose work I am a huge fan, recommended Swallow Me Whole, an Eisner Award winning book by Nate Powell. It's about two step-siblings who are suffering from various mental illnesses and the effects that those illnesses have on their lives and the lives of their family members. The story is deeply affecting on its own, but ...more
Dec 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
This was a confusing book about a family with many mental problems- a grandmother, brother and sister. It wasn't clear to me exactly what those problems were and I had to read the reviews to find out the exact nature of the problems, which included OCD and schizophrenia and hallucinations. I found it rather unbelievable that these two teens were able to navigate through the world so well when they were also trying to cope with mental illness, and their parents seemed rather clueless to me. Too m ...more
Feb 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Two step-siblings hold together amidst schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, family loss and dysfunction, animal telepathy, misguided first love, and the tiniest hope that things will someday make sense. But the best way for things to make sense may well be to give in to the family madness.

Searingly brilliant. Hypnotic. Disorienting. The best graphic novel portrait of adolescence since BLANKETS, and this is a portrait of mental illness from the inside, to boot. Full of WTF mo
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Another strong 4.5-stars book. I read the wordless final ~20 pages three times yesterday, including once right before finally going to sleep. And the ending still has me scratching my head, in a good way.

2 quibbles
a) it's classified as a young adult book but i believe it's written for adults
2nd of all, the speech bubbles were frequently unnecessarily difficult to connect to the speaker (ie, in my opinion, there was no benefit to the ambiguity or uncertainty and i wondered if the difficul/>2
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