Ducks : Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

Kate Beaton is one of my favorite graphic novel authors and illustrators. Her latest, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, was an eye-opening graphic memoir about her time working as part of Alberta’s oil rush.

Kate Beaton grew up as Katie Beaton in Mabou, Cape Breton, a tiny tight-knit seaside community in Canada. After she finished university, Katie was at a loss of what to do. Having moved back home, Katie’s immediate concern was her mounting student loan debt. Desperate to pay it off as soon as she could, she decided to head west and spend time working in the oil sands with the goal of paying off her debt as quickly as possible.

Once she arrived in Fort McMurray, Katie finds work in one of the camps that is owned and operated by the world’s largest oil companies. A culture shock she didn’t expect was being one of only a few women working amongst thousands of men. When Katie moves to a more isolated worksite for higher pay, her actions really hit home. Some of the men’s attitudes put her on edge. She is constantly on alert, seeking friends where she can find them. Sadly the harsh reality of life in the oil sands pushes into her day-to-day life when she experiences trauma that she discovers occurs everyday, but is seldom and/or never discussed.

I have been a long-time fan of Kate Beaton’s artistic style. It has only seemed to mature in Ducks. There are certain pages where Beaton draws the massive machinery and vehicles used at the oil sands up against the barren backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and the Northern Lights that articulated the juxtaposition of exploitation and natural beauty expertly. Highly recommend Beaton’s latest work.

Side-note: if you’re like me and you have trouble getting through nonfiction, I highly recommend you try graphic novels! The visual format makes it easier for me to focus on nonfiction. (This also works when I want to read a classic.)

The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

Megan Miranda examines the effect of media sensationalism in the aftermath of a tragic event in her latest book, The Girl From Widow Hills. Everyone may think that they know the true story, but in reality, the truth is more twisted than anyone could ever believe.

Arden Maynor is the girl from Widow Hills. When she was six years old, Arden was swept away by a rainstorm while she was sleepwalking in the middle of the night. She went missing for days. While her story may have begun locally, it quickly gained traction and became national news. People from all over flocked to Widow Hills to help search for Arden. Prayer vigils and search parties were set up as rescuers combed the area searching for any sign of where she could be.

Against all odds, Arden was found days later alive and clinging to a storm drain. After her rescue, she became a living miracle. Her mother wrote a book. Fame swallowed what little sense of normalcy Arden had left. People sent letters, both positive and negative, as they all demanded that Arden make something important out of her life since she had survived. They wanted recompense for all the time and money that they poured into the search for her and for her recovery after she was found. On the anniversary every year, the publicity worsened. It all became too much.

Arden disappeared. She changed her name and tried to make a new life for herself. Now living hundreds of miles away from Widow Hills, Arden goes by Olivia. She has has stayed out of the media’s attention for years and started a new life. As the twentieth anniversary of her rescue creeps ever closer, Olivia is sure that the media will track her down and force her to live out the horrors of that time and the subsequent messiness after her rescue. Becoming increasingly uneasy, Olivia believes she is being watched. She has started sleepwalking again, sometimes waking up outside her house. One night, Olivia wakes up in her yard with the corpse of a man she knows from her past laying at her feet. What has she done? Why is he there? Olivia soon realizes the tranquility she has had for the last few years is going to disappear and havoc will rush back into her life. She is once again going to become the center of the story and there is nothing she can do to stop it.

This book is also available in the following formats: