Review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

bsg-eizcj311a0tpwi0_osuzy-exegvdfwc1mhpuuessyg6060“Of course, I know there are LGBTQIA activists out there who fought for centuries for me to have the right to fuck up like this… I’m aware that I should be grateful that I have the ability to get broken up with and publicly humiliated the same as my hetero friends. I am progress.”

This tremendous queer coming-of-age story feels heart achingly familiar and extraordinary at the same time. Stunningly rendered in grayscale, with tinges of pink, by artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is about two High School girls — Frederica (Freddy) Riley and Laura Dean — in a seriously toxic relationship, and spans a formative year in their lives; through the highs and lows of young, raw, love and the repercussions their noxious romance has on those around them.

Set in Berkeley, California, the cast is extremely diverse, with a broad range of sexualities, race, gender expressions and body shapes presented, not just as background, but as substantial characters, dealing with their own trials and tribulations that don’t always come to the fore — this isn’t their story, it’s Frederica’s —  but lends the narrative credibility. This world feels lived in; the characters breathe.

Complex characters, authentic dialogue, and messy-but-beautiful friendships; Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell have created a modern classic of graphic storytelling. Readers who’ve aged beyond Raina Telgemeier’s work should seek this out immediately. Read it, love it, cherish it. You won’t regret it.

ISBN: 9781626722590
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 304
Imprint: First Second
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publish Date: 7-May-2019
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

9781529008630A gorgeous, big-hearted, beautifully illustrated and hilarious graphic novel about two ‘seasonal best friends,’ who ditch work at the Succotash Hut to find love on their final night at the pumpkin patch in Omaha, Nebraska.

Every autumn, throughout high school, Deja and Josiah have worked together at the pumpkin patch. They say goodbye every Halloween and are reunited at the beginning of September. But their time is almost up. Deja and Josiah are seniors, now; this is their last shift together. And they’ve got unfinished business. Since they started at the pumpkin patch, the bashful, goody two-shoes Josiah has steadfastly refused to talk to his unrequited love, who works at Fudge Shoppe. He has one last shot, and the outgoing, loquacious Deja is determined he take it.

Pumpkinheads spans the entirety of their final night together, as Deja and Josiah search desperately for Fudge-Girl, going from one pumpkin patch landmark to another, reflecting on their friendship, their shared sadness at leaving this very special place behind, and the excitement and trepidation for what’s to come. With intimate, touching observations — and plenty of humour! — Rowell and illustrator Faith Erin Hicks remind readers that substantive relationships don’t necessarily hinge on big, dramatic moments; oftentimes it’s the accumulation of smaller moments that matter more. Pumpkinheads is a delightful testimony to the power of friendship and young love.

ISBN: 9781529008630
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 224
Imprint: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 5-Sep-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Clyde Fans by Seth

71jymu9d0olGregory “Seth” Gallant is a sublime cartoonist and Clyde Fans is his opus; a graphic novel twenty years in the making, clocking in at close to 500 pages. It captures the key moments in the lives of two middle-class brothers from a broken home, Simon and Abe Matchcard, who detest each other, and the gradual collapse of their deserter father’s once-booming oscillating fan business, established in the 1930s, but unable to compete with the invention of air conditioning. The art is phenomenal; the thick lines intricate and expressive, the blue and grey colours accentuating the book’s melancholic tone. And the pacing is exquisite; there’s a cadence to Seth’s cartooning that compels readers to slow down and savour every page and panel. Anyone who questions comics as literature needs to read it.

ISBN: 9781770463578
Format: Hardcover
Number Of Pages: 488
Published: 30th April 2019
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Country of Publication: CA

Review: The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

51hz6icclil-_sx329_bo1204203200_“Women and men  have different types of magic,” says 11-year-old Aster’s mother early on in Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy, a graphic novel that mixes fantasy, family and identity. Everyone in Aster’s family is born with magic: the boys grow up to be shapeshifters, and the girls grow up to be witches. But shapeshifting doesn’t come easy to Aster. In fact, he finds himself drawn to the girls’ witchery sessions, taking notes and learning a type of magic forbidden to boys like him. He is an outcast, who constantly feels like he does not belong, unable to be his true self. As such, his only friend is Charlie, a black girl from the non-magical side of town, who is accepting of Aster’s propensity for witchcraft, and might be his only ally when a dark force starts abducting the boys.

The Witch Boy is a delight. Ostertag’s is an unabashed parable for gender conformity, pitched at young readers aged 8-12. But the importance of its message aside, it’s just a darn fun fantasy romp, packed with likeable, diverse characters, and illustrated buoyantly and colourfully. Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels will love this.

ISBN: 9781338089516
Format: Paperback
Imprint: Graphix
Publisher: Graphix
Publish Date: 31-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Roughneck by Jeff Lemire

9781501160998Poignant and harrowing, Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel Roughneck is a deeply moving and beautifully illustrated story about family, heritage, and breaking a family’s cycle of violence and abuse.

Derek Oullette’s glory days are a distant speck in the rear-view mirror. His hockey career – which prospered on his reputation as a bruiser – ended a decade earlier following a ferocious incident on the ice. Since then he’s lived off his reputation in the remote northern community where he grew up – the fictional Pimitamon – drinking too much, fighting anybody who crosses him. Basically, he is his father reincarnated, prone to the same lapses into violence, one misstep away from prison.

Derek’s sister, Beth, has her own demons. A drug addict, tormented by an abusive ex-boyfriend, when she shows up on Derek’s doorstep, the siblings flee to a secluded hunting cabin in the woods, living off the land as they reconnect and face up to the painful secrets of their past and their Cree heritage, to find their future. But as Beth’s ex-boyfriend closes in, he threatens to unravel the hard work the siblings have put into placating their tumultuous lives, and hoisting them back into the cycle of self-destruction.

How does someone whose life is so imbued in violence – as Derek’s was, professionally – cope when the game forces them out into the real world, where there’s no funnel for that pent-up rage? Roughneck is about the cyclical nature of violence and abuse, and the quest for redemption, which touches on the history of exploitation faced by the Indigenous people of Canada without getting bogged down in the minutiae. It’s a book that validates Jeff Lemire as one of Canada’s greatest living storytellers, in any medium, and can stand proudly beside his magnum opus, Essex County. This is one of the best graphic novels of the year. Heck, it’s one of my favourite stories of the year.

ISBN: 9781501160998
Format: Hardback (254mm x 184mm x 30mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

SecretsBryan Lee O’Malley has crushed the hopes and dreams of all the authors hoping to claim the #1 spot on my Best of 2014 list. SECONDS is brilliant, the best thing I’ve read this year, and will deservedly find a place in my Top 10 of All Time.

(I might be – just maybe –overhyping the importance of my list, and the crushing impact an author will experience by not being on it. But just go with me on this, okay?)

O’Malley rose to prominence with his series of SCOTT PILGRIM graphic novels, which I enjoyed, but never quite resonated with me as much as it did others. As fandom lauded each volume of the series, I merely liked them; they never rose above a 5 on my “Richter Scale of Book Reviews*.”

*Patent pending.

But I appreciated the innovativeness of the storytelling, and the artwork, though simplistic, was delightfully emotive. So despite not falling into the “O’Malley Adoration Camp”, I have been looking forward to his next, and purposefully avoided details of it, hoping to delve into it without context or foreshadowing.

O’Malley’s new standalone graphic novel SECONDS plays with the concept of changing the past and future through magic. It’s not a new idea; we’ve read umpteen stories before that have explored this, and the consequences of such power – but never like SECONDS, which exudes artistic vitality and nuanced narration and dialogue. It’s a parable of sorts; an exploration of entering into adulthood and living with the choices we make, and oftentimes the regrets that follow. It arrives at the perfect time in my life; 26 going on 27, having just moved to New York and separated from family and friends – in ten years, when I look back and am asked to mark the point in my lifespan when ‘true’ adulthood arrived, 2014 will likely be it. Thanks to SECONDS, I’ll have something else to remember the year by in decades to come.

Our protagonist, Katie, is 29, and a chef at a successful restaurant with plans to open her own. Like most almost-thirty-year-olds, she has a ton of regrets; relationship troubles, doubts over the chosen location for her restaurant, an imprudent fling with a colleague which leads to an accident. The latter in particular, which opens SECONDS, begins Katie’s downward spiral; suddenly it feels like every decision she made is the wrong one. Her life, imperfect though it was, as degraded from ‘fine’ to ‘terrible.’ If only she had a second chance, an opportunity to rectify things, to make the other choice, and wander down an alternate path.

If only…

A mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with instructions on how Katie can change things, and erase the bad decisions she’s made: “Write your mistake / Ingest one mushroom / Go to sleep / Wake anew.” And it works.

But Katie becomes consumed with her power to change things, and she begins erasing even the most trivial occurrences of her life, hoping to mould her life into something close to perfection – but of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, and very quickly Katie’s destiny is no longer in her hands; there’s a darker force at play.

While there are supernatural elements in SECONDS, it’s essentially a character piece. Katie has hopes and dreams and is conscious of the divergent paths each of her decisions takes her down. She is already haunted by choices she’s made, and her neurosis of manipulating time and ‘redoing’ supposed misguided decisions is fuelled by her fear of failure. It makes you wonder: if you had the opportunity to amend one major decision in your life, what would you choose? Then suppose you suddenly discovered you could amend more than one – where would you stop? Would you stop at all? Katie oversteps, and the consequences are personally devastating.

O’Malley’s storytelling has improved since SCOTT PILGRIM – not just artistically, but his writing too. In SECONDS, the writer / artist has refined the rawer elements of his earlier work; there are fewer pop culture references, and while these characters are larger than life, they’re undeniably human. Aided by an artistic team which includes the vibrant work of colorist Nathan Fairbain, SECONDS is an incredible visual package.

Bryan Lee O’Malley has reached an unprecedented zenith with SECONDS; and with surely more to come from this insanely talented comics creator, I’m excited for what the future holds. SCOTT PILGRIM fans will be all over this already; but those like me, who perhaps didn’t feel the same awe for that series, should definitely check it out. There’s no finer graphic novel currently in stores.

Now, excuse me. I’ve owned SECONDS for less than 24 hours, and I’m about to enjoy it again for the third time. Am I smitten? You betcha.