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Book Review | Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

From the publisher: Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou. This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

Tillie Walden weaves a surreal twist on the classic road-trip narrative. Like any road trip, there are slow, meditative moments and there are fast-paced chases that make the reader’s heart race. There are moments that feel so real you pause to reflect on your own memories and surreal, hauntingly creepy forays into a world that can only be described as the rural West. Set in a world before (or maybe without?) cell phones, it is easy for readers to feel the isolation and unease that comes with long road trips across unfamiliar land with an unfamiliar passenger.

Fans of Welcome to Night Vale will enjoy the alone-together feel; fans of Studio Ghibli movies will enjoy Walden’s rich color schemes and the connection forged between Lou and Bea. Walden’s art is detailed, yet sparse at the same time; there is a lot to look at, but most of the eye-catching bits are embellishments. New audiences and seasoned fans of Walden’s work will enjoy Walden’s rounder, softer lines and  varied color schemes that bring the world of the West to life.

Though the art is beautiful and worth checking out on its own merit, the real hook of Are you Listening is the relationship between Bea and Lou. Dialogue between Lou and Bea is realistic– though stilted at first, it becomes more natural as the two get to know each other. Similarly, readers come to know Lou and Bea as they get to know each other. Walden devotes all of the development to Lou and Bea and their relationship; it’s easy to see just how much the pair grow and change over the course of their adventure.

This is an enchanting journey, and readers will want to stay along for the ride.

Are You Listening? is available for checkout from the Galesburg Public Library.