"Numb To This" is a harrowing graphic novel memoir about a mass shooting

Numb To This is the debut graphic novel from writer/illustrator Kindra Neely. Back in 2015, Neely was a student at Umpqua Community College in Oregon — and she was there on campus the day that a gunman killed eight students and one professor and injured eight more.

The book is more than just a graphic memoir of a horrible tragedy; as she details within the pages of the book, it was also an outlet for journey towards healing from the trauma of that fateful day. But don't take that to mean that Numb To This is some sort of personal diary of self expression. While this may be Neely's first professional foray into graphic novel publishing, her work demonstrates a deft skill as a storyteller. She knows when to let her clean cartooning speak for itself, and when she needs the words to enhance the scene. Editing your own trauma down to an illustrated narrative is a tricky art, but Neely innately understands the dramatic structure outside of herself, pulling you along through its roughly 300 pages. I ended up reading Numb To This in a single sitting; it was genuinely hard to put down.

That's not because it was an edge-of-seat thriller or anything. There's not even any central mystery or anything else that compels you to learn more. Neely's personal experience during the shooting is depicted, yes, but it's not a gratuitous or horrifying action sequence; it's mostly her and some other people holed up in the library. And that's where Numb To This finds its real strength: in the way it depicts those small, quiet moments that follow the survivors of these horrific events. It's not about an epic recovery after getting shot (Neely endures no such injuries). It's about how you find a way to go on living afterwards.

Perhaps the most horrifying thing about the story is how familiar and visceral Neely's depression feels in the aftermath of her experience. Even if you've never survived a mass shooting yourself — I certainly haven't! — you can find a way to resonate with the guilt and fear and shame that she internalizes afterward. Now compound your own personal experiences of depression with massive media coverage. Imagine your darkest moments transformed into fodder by locals and social media sock puppets alike — casting accusations and aspersions that twist your trauma into a tool for someone else's social clout. And all the while, you just pull deeper inward, not wanting your loved ones to worry any more than they already did after the harrowing experience you endured.

Numb To This is fucking powerful. It's the kind of thing that should be taught in schools — not just because of the way it depicts this horrible moment in our history, but also the way it illustrates the healing power of art.

Here's the official synopsis:

This searing graphic memoir portrays the impact of gun violence through a fresh lens with urgency, humanity, and a very personal hope.Kindra Neely never expected it to happen to her. No one does. Sure, she'd sometimes been close to gun violence, like when the house down the street from her childhood home in Texas was targeted in a drive-by shooting. But now she lived in Oregon, where she spent her time swimming in rivers with friends or attending classes at the bucolic Umpqua Community College.

And then, one day, it happend: a mass shooting shattered her college campus. Over the span of a few minutes, on October 1, 2015, eight students and a professor lost their lives. And suddenly, Kindra became a survivor. This empathetic and ultimately hopeful graphic memoir recounts Kindra's journey forward from those few minutes that changed everything. 

It wasn't easy. Every time Kindra took a step toward peace and wholeness, a new mass shooting devastated her again. Las Vegas. Parkland. She was hopeless at times, feeling as if no one was listening. Not even at the worldwide demonstration March for Our Lives.  But finally, Kindra learned that—for her—the path toward hope wound through art, helping others, and sharing her story.

Numb To This [Kindra Neely]

She survived a mass shooting — then created a graphic novel to help others [Alejandra Marquez Janse, Juana Summers, and Matt Ozug / NPR]