CADY ABE WRITES – Picture books are often synonymous with bright colors, simple plots, and child-like innocence. However, readers find completely opposite undertones in Mr. Goodchild (2022). The artwork curiously draws readers in and creates an unsettling atmosphere. There is a great deal of dark shading, leaving a mysterious aura across the page and making readers think – what is really hiding in the dark?
This enigmatic picture book, written and illustrated by J.H. Low, contains dark, subtly disturbing artwork, and features grotesque, anthropological goats. From his small apartment to working as a seamster, Mr. Goodchild follows an unnamed goat-man tied down to a mundane life. Although stuck in a monotonous cycle, the goat-man continues to hear a voice in the depths of his mind, begging to escape. Who or what is the voice, and what does it want with the goat-man? In a short yet very fulfilling novel, Mr. Goodchild speaks volumes about the darkness that can inhabit anyone.
The book delves into the bleakness of adulthood and how society forces people to hide their “inner demons” and conform. The novel depicts little devils of various sizes and colors living freely and happily until an invisible man creates matching clothes. The empty man dresses each of the tiny devils in the outfits. This is an eerie metaphor for how society and societal standards, designed by an “invisible hand,” force people to hide their true selves and perpetuate negative mental health stigmas. It also alludes to the idea of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” but instead of the wolf being evil, the story addresses the idea that the real “wolf” is people feeling as though they need to hide their mental illnesses.
Mental health often harbors negative stigmas in modern society. Within Singapore, mental health is often seen as derogatory or embarrassing. In a 2017 survey, 44.5% of Singaporean youths thought mental illness was “dangerous, weird, crazy, and stupid.” Although one in seven Singaporeans experience mood or anxiety disorders, attitudes of discrimination still runs rampant.
Mr. Goodchild works to break down the harmful mental health stereotypes prevalent in Singapore and the entire world by poetically showing that everyone has their own “demons” they feel obligated to mask on the surface. COVID-19 left unsettling circumstances, and the loneliness and isolation of a worldwide quarantine created many more mental health issues. The book’s most resonating message is that no one needs to face the hardships of modern life alone.
Cady Abe is a new AMI book reviewer, a senior Asian Pacific Studies major, and Chinese minor at Loyola Marymount University. She is deeply interested in Asian and Asian American culture and plans to attend law school.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.