Black Hole by Charles Burns


Goodreads: Black Hole
Series:  None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1995


It’s the 1970s in Seattlel and an STD known as the bug is devastating a local high school.  The bug can manifest as anything from an extra mouth to a lizard tail to webbed fingers, but once you have it, society doesn’t want you.  Black Hole follows several teenagers who either have the bug or are about to contract it as they navigate high school, trying to fit in but knowing they’re not like their “normal” peers.


I have to admit this is not the type of book I normally enjoy and the story here simply did not resonate me.  Why a bunch of teenagers would sleep with each other, knowing they will contract the bug and likely end up homeless in the woods as a result, is beyond me.  Surely one’s urges are not so strong that they’d lead one to choose voluntary mockery, degradation, and social isolation?  Isn’t this book doing a bit of a disservice to teens, suggesting many of them simply “cannot control themselves”?

It’s true that many of the teens can control themselves, but simply choose to contract the bug because they are attracted to someone else.  I still find it odd that another party would voluntarily transmit the bug to someone else, if they cared about that person.  Individuals with the bug, once they can no longer hide it and “pass” are eventually driven out of society.  In Seattle, there’s a homeless camp in the woods where the teens live in filthy tents.  And they know there’s a murderer on the loose out there, too.

Certainly the book provides a strong message about ostracizing those who are different, and the feelings of isolation and not fitting in will be familiar to many readers and especially teens, who can see themselves reflected in the young protagonists.But I’m not sure if this is a particularly effective way of talking about what constitutes “normal.” Questions about why teens would voluntarily cause each other to suffer because they “love” each other are all I can think about.

Plus it’s easy to get distracted by Burns’ apparent personal challenge to make everything and anything visually resemble female genitalia.  This is a very graphic novel–I mean, an adult novel.  With adult content.  And sometimes the books seems so caught up with trying to be provocative and titillating that it loses sight of its own message.

I really do not feel that I got anything out of this book that I could not have gotten more profitably elsewhere.  A deeper message about teenage years or fitting in.  Without a cast of characters devoted to nothing but getting high and sleeping around.  As I said, it’s not the type of story I enjoy.

2 starsKrysta 64


5 thoughts on “Black Hole by Charles Burns

  1. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Yeah, I can’t relate to this either- I don’t get why people would do this (on either side)- it just seems foolish on one side and insanely cruel on the other. I get the themes they’re getting at (possibly) but this seems like a pretty foolish premise.


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think it could be interesting to explore ideas of the monstrous. But I had trouble with the way the teens were presented as not caring about anyone but themselves. Maybe that’s the point.


  2. MyBookJacket says:

    Huh. I never picked this up because I didn’t care much for the cover but boy I’m glad I didn’t. It sounds like a really messed up way to try and share a “good message”. I’d probably focus on the cruelty of the “uncontrollable” teens as well. Great review.


    • Krysta says:

      I’ve talked with several people about this book and they all seemed to be really into it for the most part, which I found fascinating. I thought maybe I just have “outdated” morals or something. The people I talked to mentioned that the bug doesn’t really harm anyone–it just gives people different animal characteristics. However, that ignores the effects of looking like an animal in the teens’ society–being cast out into the woods without decent food or shelter.

      Liked by 1 person

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