Mallory Lass reviews Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko TamakiCW: teen pregnancy & abortion, minor homophobia.

I fell in love with Tamaki’s writing in female helmed superhero comics like She-Hulk. I was over the moon to hear she had a queer graphic novel coming out, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is packed with queer representation.

Frederica “Freddy” Riley is an average high school student in Berkeley, CA and is in a relationship that reminded me of my first year of college, to the dawn of Facebook’s “it’s complicated” status. As it says on the tin, her girlfriend, Laura Dean, keeps breaking up with her.

Laura Dean is aloof and popular–actually, she might be the most popular girl in school. I would also call her a player. Our first introduction to her is Freddy walking in on her making out with another girl at a school dance. She is always dropping in on her own timeline and jetting off in a hurry without regard for anyone else. But there is just something about her Freddy can’t quit.

I find graphic novels often are an easy to read and quickly consumable format. Coming from the colorful world of comics, the black and white illustration style of this took a touch to get used to, but Valero-O’Connell’s illustrations are gorgeous and full of diverse bodies, races, and personal styles. The one complaint I have about the formatting is sometimes the dialogue bubbles are hard to track and there is a lot of directional gymnastics, which slowed me down and detracted from the story. That said, the intrigue and page turning quality came from wanting to know how Freddy was going to resolve the mess of a relationship she had with Laura.

Freddie has a fantastic squad. Eric and Buddy, friends who are also a gay couple, best friend Doodle, plus other queers like newfound friend Val, and her boss at Gertrude’s cafe make up the lovely supporting cast. I enjoyed how the story explored how relationships that have toxic elements end up having a ripple effect throughout your life, and that Freddie has the opportunity to change the course she’s headed down.

Along Freddie’s journey to resolve her relationship issues, Tamaki seamlessly works in relevant teen topics such as: consent; contraceptives; what it means to come out and the consequences queer people have faced for living life openly; teen pregnancy & abortion; and friendships as primary relationships. Tamaki integrates cell phones and texting into the story in a way that reflects reality but doesn’t seem like social commentary on technology.

The dialogue felt real and lived in, and I would have loved to find this book at 17. If you like graphic novels, and/or Tamaki’s other work I would definitely give this a read. If you know anyone under 20 who has come out or is struggle with navigating their late teens, this would make a great gift.

Danika reviews (You) Set Me On Fire by Mariko Tamaki

YouSetMeOnFire

This is a story about college, about fire, and also about love.

Before going to college at the age of seventeen, I’d been in love once (total catastrophe) and on fire twice (also pretty bad).

From the first two lines of (You) Set Me On Fire, I was hooked. This reads like how a college student really would tell about their disastrous first year. It’s casual, but compelling. The main character, Allison, has had a rough time in high school, and is relieved to find a friend (and possible romance interest?) in her new school, even if that friend is kind of a jerk.

I’m conflicted about this book because I loved the writing style, and I found Allison an interesting main character, and I thought the relationship between Allison and Shar was realistic–but that was the problem. Allison has this toxic friendship (relationship?) with Shar that felt so true to life that it was painful to read about. I desperately wanted better for her, but Allison isn’t a perfect person, either.

I don’t think that I can properly articulate my reaction to this book. Much like my experience reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (though they are very different books), I found the reading experience uncomfortable because that experience is so skillfully described. If you’re willing to experience some second-hand discomfort and a reminder of the horrors of being 17, pick up (You) Set Me On Fire.

Also check out Casey’s (more well thought out) review!

Erica reviews Skim (words by Mariko Tamaki and drawings by Jillian Tamaki)

Skim

When the graphic novel Skim opens, its lesbian teen protagonist, Kimberly Keiko Cameron (aka Skim), has just broken her arm on her mother’s candelabra that she was using for her Wicca altar. The broken arm isn’t really an issue except when Skim tries to photograph her cast with her left hand or writing her name. Plus, it gets her out of physical education.

After the suicide of a local teen boy from another school, the students and faculty at Skim’s school become hyper-aware of the students’ happiness (or, rather, their potential to commit suicide). Multiple classmates and adults approach Skim in particular because she is a quiet, goth-esque teenager—supposedly a stereotype for at-risk youth. Everyone seems to be worried about her well being, except for Skim that is.

Told in part diary format, part inner monologue, the Tamaki cousins link snippets of Skim’s days and weeks, highlighting conversations with her best friend Lisa, her attempts at witchcraft, the girls at school and her curious relationship with her English teacher, Ms. Archer. Skim’s storyline also parallels Katie Matthew’s, the ex-girlfriend of John Reddear, through Skim’s observations and interactions with her.

The illustrations are done in black and white and mainly focus on the characters’ emotions. Skim’s diary pages can be anything from a half a page to a double page spread, coupling sparse illustrations with minimal text. Both angles of the story telling reinforce Skim’s character: when she speaks, it matters, and she is still a teenager with big, teenager feelings.

What I appreciated most about this graphic novel was its gentle portrayal of Skim. While various characters try to figure out what is going on with her—why she is quiet, upset or aloof, etc.—Skim is just being Skim, reserved, relatively free of drama, and experiencing her own kind of heartbreak. She is true to herself, and in doing so she has the capacity to hear someone else’s heartbreak— and that results in an unlikely but pleasant connection. Overall, a tender portrait of first loves, school friendships, and the importance of compassion.

[Check out Erica’s other writing at her website.]