The Lab

Top Shelf. Mar. 2020. 176p. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781603094610.
Gr 10 Up–This wordless graphic novel follows the plight of a nameless, genderless human in captivity. Dirty, naked, and alone, the human lives in a small room with an overflowing toilet, a dog bowl full of water, and a tray of mystery mush. Although the lack of natural light makes the passage of time unclear, each new “day” sees the human pulled from their cell by a mechanical hand and taken to a lab to be subjected to inhumane experiments, then returned to their cell, sick, hopeless, and traumatized. When it is revealed that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others are being subjected to the same torture, the human manages to escape. However, the relative safety of the outside world is not what it seems. Conway is an excellent visual storyteller, leaving readers with a growing sense of dread. By keeping the protagonist nameless and devoid of defining features, the author/illustrator drives home the dehumanization of the test subjects. Relying deftly on a shifting palette, Conway juxtaposes the brutal nature of the cells and the lab against cheerfully bright experimental chemicals. This work of sci-fi brings up concerns about the basic rights of living beings and can be applied to a variety of real-world topics.
VERDICT Though there is no bright light at the end of the tunnel and the subject may be too bleak for younger readers, this thought-provoking read will resonate with mature fans of complex dystopian tales.

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