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“Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness” speaks for the isolated

Olivia Barone

Arts & Entertainment Editor

This year’s Open Books - Open Minds common book is “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness,” an emotional graphic novel written and illustrated by Kristen Radtke. It dives deep into what it means to be isolated and the effects on human consciousness when secluded. Eloquently written and teeming with striking imagery, Radtke’s novel unveils the most intimate parts of human existence and brings vulnerability out into the open.

“Seek You” received its name for the amateur radio owned by Radtke’s father. In its prime, operators used a series of punctuated beeps known as a “CQ call,” which would be used to invite any listeners to speak. In French, the international language used by amateur radio, “CQ” sounds like “sécurité,” which translates to “pay attention,” but Americans understood it to mean “seek you,” like seeking an anonymous voice in a sea of static.

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In using the call to search for connection amidst literal radio silence, Radtke’s father was consoled but ultimately neglectful of his relationship with his daughter. Radtke shares her father’s obsession as her first experience with loneliness and later brings forward a collection of anonymous stories from others who confronted their initial experiences with true isolation. Each was paired with a line-drawn face colored gray, creating a collage of faces who know what it means to be lost in seclusion. Seeing them together, facing their loneliness head-on, made each individual seem not so alienated after all.

Radtke continued to explore loneliness as a widespread problem that everyone faces. She confronted modern-day means of communication and media that tend to exclude its users and the resulting terrorism on mental health; like the glorified depiction of freedom from inhibitions in the form of cowboys on the silver screen, spinning their revolvers and rearing their steeds before chasing the setting sun. A cowboy wasn’t lonely, he was free; what many forget when watching western films is that a cowboy’s alienation was not from freedom, but from true isolation. Committed to long hours looking after cattle, there was no time to lasso scoundrels and the hearts of damsels. There was only time to spend alone on their ranches, slaving away. These false depictions create seclusion by making the most lonesome seem heroic, only feeding into human pride. Radtke’s illustrations of life on the ranch, full of cowboys gazing into lofty horizons, made loneliness seem like it hung not only over the cowboy, but the reader as well.

The novel cited studies conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow to portray the physical and mental effects of loneliness. Harlow found, via studying groups of rhesus monkeys, that social contact is essential to living a fulfilling life. Disturbingly, Harlow imprisoned a lone infant rhesus monkey, the only interaction it received being the occasional hand of a researcher reaching in to give it food or water. It was found that the longer the monkey was isolated, the more reluctant it was to integrate into a group of monkeys and the less likely it was to mate and connect with offspring. In sharing Harlow’s tragic experiments, Radtke exposed the disturbing effects that isolation has on the spirit of any species, proving that loneliness is not just a status, but a plague.

There is more to be found within “Seek You,” but it was not only Radtke’s thought-provoking prose that drew me in. Its stunning illustrations, complete with a sunset’s color palette, kept me enticed. The pictures did not accompany her words but propelled them throughout the novel, both working together to tell a story of America’s greatest hardship.

“Seek You” depicts a darkened apartment building beneath a rosy sky, an occasional window lit to reveal someone inside, alone and at their most vulnerable. A girl suspended in the night sky, surrounded by twinkling stars but blind to them and crashing waves, dark and foreboding as Radtke writes, “loneliness feels to me like being underwater, fumbling against a muted world in which the sound of your own body is loud against the quiet of everything else.”

It is up to us to reach out, to find the frequency down which we can shout, radio silence in our ears and seek out those lost in the static. “Seek You” teaches readers to keep the connection alive, as you never know who might be listening.


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