Small Altars

by Justin Gardiner




Format: paperback
Published: April 2024

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ISBN: 978-1-961209-06-0 Categories: , , , ,

“It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book as raw and honest, as staggeringly, shatteringly sad, and, too, as wise and life-affirming. With Small Altars, Justin Gardiner offers his late brother, himself, and all of us that great gift of attention, the hero’s favor of grace.”
Joe Wilkins, author of Fall Back Down When I Die and When We Were Birds

“In Justin Gardiner’s deft hand, Small Altars explores one of life’s most complicated relationships: brothers. In prose that sings and snaps, sentences that explore the small, intimate moments of life, Gardiner sustains an emotional throughline of exquisite beauty. Here we get childhood loves of the movies, of comic books, of superheroes—but perhaps the greatest insight the reader will feel by the end is that ultimate gift: love, in all its complication, between two siblings.”
Taylor Brorby, author of Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land

“At its tender heart, Justin Gardiner’s Small Altars considers death, yes, but the life of fraternal bonds, illness, and separation—all placed on the psychic altars kept for loved ones. The figure of the superhero, the notion of the Endgame itself echoes throughout this haunted essay. Told in illustrative fragments and movements, Small Altars elevates sound and reverberation from block-written-as-panel to panel. Mixing chronology, research into mental illness and cancer, this essay’s blood circulatory system mirrors grief through its multivalent recurrences. In unassailable prose that only could be written by a poet, this tender reflection carves out space for two brothers that will endure well beyond these pages.”
Rajiv Mohabir, author of Whale Aria and Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir

“This thoughtful portrait of remembrance and grief is like nothing I’ve read before. I devoured the book in a single sitting, so compelled was I by Justin Gardiner’s intelligent blend of research, introspection, pop-culture commentary, and family history. I hope you’ll forgive this pun, but Small Altars is indeed a marvel.”
Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses


In Small Altars, Justin Gardiner delves into the world of comic books and superheroes as a means for coming to terms with the many struggles of his brother’s life, as well as his untimely death, offering a lyric and honest portrayal of the tolls of mental illness, the redemptive powers of art and familial love, and the complex workings of grief.  

Small Altars is structured in short sections recalling the panels of a comic book—some taking surprising shapes, some flashing forward or backward in time, but each contributing to the motion (and emotion) of the whole.  The book also steps away, periodically, from the intimacy of its narrative, adapting the format of a glossary of terms which layer together the vocabularies of comic books with the terminologies and diagnoses related to cancer and schizophrenia.  Small Altars offers a testament to how our most private stories often prove to be both minor and grand, heroic and heartbreaking in turn.

Additional information

Weight 0.45 lbs
Dimensions 5 × 8 in

Click here to access the free Reader’s Companion.

Gardiner--Small Altars Reader's Companion