Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

K Is in Trouble

by Gary Clement

On at least one book website you will find Gary Clement’s debut graphic novel, inspired by the writing and childhood of Franz Kafka, tagged under “Social Themes: Self-Esteem; Self-Reliance.” It’s a classification that almost certainly has never been used with, say, Kafka’s The Trial. Applied to Clement’s young character, K, as he learns independence, or at least endurance, while facing his own series of bizarre tribulations, however, it makes a delightful kind of sense.

What is childhood, after all, if not an amalgam of Kafkaesque moments? Of unfair persecutions, random happenings, and unexpected metamorphoses? (Why has my friend suddenly become my enemy?) It’s no coincidence that nearly every classic recurring nightmare you can think of, whether it involves finding yourself in public in your underpants, or seated for a math test you haven’t studied for, has its roots in youth.

Many of the five interlinked but discrete tales in K Is in Trouble have an identifiable precursor in Kafka, such as the first, in which K makes the acquaintance of a talking beetle while holed up in the cold, dungeon-like room where he’s sent after arriving late to school. When K shares his secret ambition to be a writer, the beetle (whose own life goal is to live atop a heaping pile of garbage) tells K he should write about him.

In one of the funniest stories (one that has no clear Kafka connection), K is sent by his mother to the local market with orders to buy “a nice, fresh, lively carp.” The sole carp he finds there isn’t particularly lively, but it does, like the beetle, have the gift of gab. And of persuasion. So much so that on their walk home the carp convinces K to let it have one final swim in the river (“I GIVE YOU MY WORD AS A CARP!” the fish responds to K’s not-so-audacious suggestion that it might lack motivation to return).

Most know Clement as a long-time political cartoonist, but it’s his children’s books (including Governor General’s Award–-winner The Great Poochini) that best highlight his prodigious talent as an illustrator. Here, we often find K in various oppressive – but wonderfully drawn – environments, his knees protectively drawn up as he’s dwarfed by a bank of filing cabinets or the tall walls of his sauna-like bedroom.

Adults, on the other hand, with their googly eyes, outlandish moustaches, monocles, pince-nez, striped trousers, and yelly mouths, are almost uniformly ridiculous. Clement satisfyingly dismantles one – a pompous officer decked out in epaulettes, red sash, and cap, who takes a lost K into custody for loitering at the train station – simply by depicting him eating a banana.

That Clement never bows to the demands of feel-goodery – or explains away the endless absurdities K must face – is one of the most pleasing, and paradoxically realistic aspects of these weird, wonderful tales.


Reviewer: Emily Donaldson

Publisher: Little Brown Ink


Price: $18.99

Page Count: 224 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-316-46860-2

Released: January

Issue Date: February 2024

Categories: Children and YA Fiction, Kids’ Books

Age Range: 7–12