‘Trampoline’: An Illustrated Novel about Appalachian Girlhood

Author Robert Gipe will be one of five presenters for the symposium “Appalachia: An American Story” at the Cincinnati Art Museum Friday.

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click to enlarge Robert Gipe - Photo:  Joseph Jones
Photo: Joseph Jones
Robert Gipe
Trampoline's cover identifies it as “an illustrated novel” with the heroine/narrator shown right there, hair and glasses slightly askew, lined out in a black-and-white drawing like those found throughout the book. The illustrations and story are by Robert Gipe, who lives, writes (and draws) in Harlan, Ky. Gipe will be one of five presenters for the symposium “Appalachia: An American Story” at the Cincinnati Art Museum 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday (April 28). Admission is free.

Gipe knows the life and people of that story-telling culture intimately. Here he sinks without visible effort into the identity of his first-person narrator, Dawn, a young woman telling about being 15 years old in Appalachia. 

As all of us who have been 15 and a girl can tell you, this is a fraught and exciting time, full of new rules and new expectations. In Appalachia, where mining companies raise passionate feelings pro and con, there's an additional almost-daily drama. 

Dawn's story is also a family story, inevitable in this strongly family-oriented society, and we come to know her mother and her grandmother well. Both Momma and Maw Maw are significant figures in Dawn's life, perhaps partly because her father's death has left her mother a grieving alcoholic and drug addict. The society itself is steeped in both those means of escape. 

Illustrations are integral to the story. Dialogue is often presented through them, the words becoming part of the composition. Dawn's friend Evie, explaining that she always gets kicked out of school on Thursdays, is shown looking regretful with the words, “Thursday is my bad day, she said.” running left edge to right edge. Note the period within the quote; Gipe is grammatically sound.

The trampoline of the title is installed in a family backyard and is something of a symbol of the lives of the people we meet here. Their lives catch our interest and our emotions. “The sound of people telling one another stories is the most precious sound in the world. Trying to catch that sound on the page is my favorite part of writing,” Gipe has said. It should be; he's very good at it.


TRAMPOLINE is published by Ohio University Press. Author Robert Gipe will present during “Appalachia: An American Story” at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Friday. Admission is free. More info: cincinnatiartmuseum.org or ohioswallow.com.

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