“Chopsticks” (Penguin/Razorbill, 2012), a multi-media collaboration between author Jessica Anthony and book designer Rodrigo Corral, is a haunting story of love, mystery, and madness. Told almost entirely through images and links to YouTube videos and online music, the book opens with a breaking news story: world famous piano prodigy Glory Fleming has gone missing from the Golden Hands Rest facility, an institution for musical geniuses. The rest of the book is a flashback that tells the story of the events leading up to her disappearance.
After Glory’s mother died, she and her father have buried their grief into developing her career as a world-class pianist. Through photographs of playbills and newspaper clippings, we learn that Glory is famous for virtuosic performances of classical music peppered with references to contemporary rock bands. She falls in love with Frank Mendoza, the boy who moves in next door. Photos, instant messages, postcards, letters, mix CDs, and YouTube videos (the reader is provided with links to online media) tell the story of their growing love.
When Glory’s father books her for an extended European tour—partly to further her career, but mostly to separate her from Frank—she really begins to fall apart. She begins to lapse into the Chopsticks Waltz at her concerts; soon, that is all she can play. As she descends into further into madness, the line between reality and imagination becomes blurred.
It is possible to read “Chopsticks” very quickly. There are, after all, very few words. To truly understand the story, however, the reader should take the time to linger over the carefully crafted images, listen to the music and watch the videos. All of these elements carry considerable narrative weight.
“Chopsticks” is also available as an iPad or iPhone app. If they are available, I definitely recommend the digital version of “Chopsticks.” The images are gorgeous and sharp, and the reader can access the app’s interactive components by clicking on subtle animated musical notes. The interactive features add little additional content, although clicking on the image of a tape recorder opens an audio file of Glory’s mother singing to her as a baby—a poignant touch. The most important feature of the app is that the reader can simply click on a link to access the online media; there’s no need to laboriously type in the URL. And readers can choose to shuffle the pages—something that can open up new interpretations of the mystery of Glory’s disappearance.