Messy Roots: a Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao

the cover of Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American

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Messy Roots is Laura Gao’s memoir of her childhood and coming of age, first in Wuhan, China, then an early move to Texas, and finally through her choices of college in Pennsylvania and a job in the Bay area. As a Chinese American immigrant, Gao depicts her struggle to reconcile her childhood in Wuhan with the expectations of her friends and classmates in America via a direct and honest look at her own internalized biases and struggles, illustrated by a flowing and charming art style. I found Messy Roots to be a heartwarming and fast-paced read, and I’m really glad a friend recommended it to me.

Gao is brutally honest in her depiction of herself. She starts out by describing her efforts to fit in with her classmates in Texas, including by taking an American-ized name and minimizing hobbies and traits that mark her out as too obviously an immigrant. She finds her Chinese lessons burdensome and resents having to attend Chinese events at her family’s church. When she moves to college, she both connects more with the Chinese student community and realizes that she is attracted to women. Free from being directly under the eye of her family and people who knew her growing up, Gao, like many college students, starts to figure out for herself who she wants to be as a person. I felt like Gao’s personal journey really resonated from the page, because it was messy and not linear. I personally really empathized with how Gao’s attraction to women was evident through her early years with the benefit of hindsight, but not fully realized until college and near adulthood. Laura also struggles with who and how to come out to people, and especially to her family, but even when they are struggling to communicate, Gao depicts a complex and affectionately nuanced showing of family. I think memoirs like this are important, because real life does not reflect a neat narrative like in fiction. Reading this really focuses in on how you keep growing and learning as a person, and things that you think you had moved on from can later become important to you, and I really think this perspective is important for the teen audience this is intended for, although older readers can certainly appreciate that aspect as well.

In the final part of the book, Gao tells about moving to San Francisco after college, and rooming with a group of her immigrant friends. Buoyed by the strong Chinese community in the area and the city’s diverse and modern atmosphere, Gao starts to feel like she is putting down her own roots. But when the pandemic hits in 2020, Wuhan goes from an obscure location to a household name in America. As waves of racism and hatred impact her life and her family, Gao once again struggles to make sense of her identity and her life. It’s a terribly poignant and personal look at a time most of us would rather not look to closely at. It’s sort of refreshing to see a narrative that actively includes the pandemic as a time period that had real impact on people, and not just through the possibility of getting sick. Gao’s narrative highlights the some of the real ripple effects that this global event had, and I think that is also important to show in literature. 

Messy Roots is Laura Gao’s effort to document her journey through her identity.  Unlike a conventional, fictional coming of age story, Gao shows that life is messy and most people’s development is not linear. Her unflinching introspection and willingness to shine a light on the complex and less pretty parts of personal development make for an inspiring and insightful read. I am definitely glad to have read her perspective, and think this would be an excellent book for both adults and teens looking for a new viewpoint about growing up, coming out, and finding yourself. 

Bestselling Book Gets a Second Wind: Juliet Takes a Breath: The Graphic Novel

Juliet Takes a Breath Graphic Novel cover

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Back in 2016, when I first heard that there was a new young adult novel by a queer Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx who was also potentially my cousin (just kidding—all the Puerto Rican Riveras from the Bronx aren’t related, y’all), I remember feeling so excited. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (she/her) is the story of Juliet Milagros Palante, a 19-year-old baby dyke from the Bronx navigating the coming out process, radical feminism, and what it means to be a queer person of color.

In December 2020, nearly five years after the novel’s debut, Rivera released the graphic novel adaptation of Juliet Takes a Breath with gorgeous illustrations by Celia Moscote. I read the novel the summer it came out and was blown away.  I picked up the graphic novel seven years later and was just as impressed.

Juliet Takes a Breath is a coming of age story that opens on the eve of Juliet’s departure to Portland, Oregon for a summerlong internship with white feminist author Harlowe Brisbane. At family dinner, Juliet reveals that she is gay and has a girlfriend. Although Juliet’s brother, abuela, and titi are supportive, Juliet’s mother is rattled by her revelation and the two have little time to process their feelings before Juliet must leave. When Juliet arrives in Portland, she meets free-spirited Harlowe, who she clearly idolizes. However, as the summer progresses, Juliet develops her own queer identity, finds community amongst queer people of color, and comes to learn that Harlowe is not necessarily worthy of the pedestal upon which Juliet has put her.

Juliet Takes a Breath features a refreshingly diverse cast of characters, which includes individuals who are bisexual, trans, and biracial. Puerto Rican culture is also prominently featured in the graphic novel, infused into its language, history, and imagery. Juliet’s Puerto Rican-ness is the foundation of her identity. She is anchored by her close-knit family, which provides her unconditional love and support even amid conflict.  Moscote perfectly captures the personalities and emotions of Juliet’s loved ones. Her renderings of Juliet, a beautiful,  curvaceous young woman with caramel skin and dark curls, in various states of emotion—joy, anger, pleasure, and sadness—are stunning.

Seven years later, I still love this story. As a queer Puerto Rican woman with Bronx roots, it made me feel seen. Beyond that, I loved how Rivera educated her audience on the importance of intersectionality and community and boldly tackled complex and emotionally charged issues like the white savior complex in feminism. The graphic novel format made these topics even more accessible. I highly recommend checking it out! 

Rivera is also the author of the original comic series b.b. Free, as well as Marvel Comics’ AMERICA series, which follows the adventures of America Chavez.  If you’d like to learn more about Rivera, you can check out her Instagram, @quirkyrican, where she posts about her writing and the joys of being a “masc mom”.

Trigger warnings for sexual assault, racism, and white saviorism.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey.  She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

When Your Hyperfixation is Sapphic Books: A Shortlist of Sapphic Autistic Narratives

I recently read a report from the University of Cambridge about how autistic people are more likely to be queer than allistic people, with specifically autistic female-identifying people being three times as likely to identify as some form of queer. If you are interested in reading more about this, you can read the abstract. This got me thinking about how there has been a recent uptick in autistic narratives, especially in young adult and middle grade books. Once I got thinking about that, I went down a little rabbit hole of autistic queer literature, and found some fantastic titles that I’d love to share with y’all! Without any further ado, here are five of my favorite autistic sapphic titles.

the cover of The Ojja-Wojja

The Ojja-Wojja by Magdalene Visaggio and Jenn St-Onge

Val and Lanie are two middle-graders trying to retain their individuality in small-town Bollingbrooke, despite the metaphorical targets on their backs due to being queer (Lanie) or autistic (Val). When the two complete an ancient ritual and summon the Ojja-Wojja, Val, Lanie and their group of friends have to defend the town against the demonic presence before it destroys their town.

The Ojja-Wojja is great for people who heard “Alien Party” by Sid Dorey and went “wow…they’re right! Being queer or autistic is like being an alien!” 

the cover of Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl

Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl by Sara Waxelbaum and Briana R. Shrum

Margo is an overachiever, autistic, and newly out as gay, while Abbi is known for being visibly queer and failing US History. The two team up to cover their blind spots; Margo receives Queer 101 lessons in exchange for Abbi receiving history lessons.

Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl is a fun, tongue-in-cheek read that I couldn’t put down. If you want a book about a Jewish, autistic protagonist and plenty of queer rep, you’ll want to pick up this one.

the cover of Cleat Cute

Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner 

When Phoebe joined the US Women’s National Team, she had no idea that she was taking Grace’s spot after the veteran got injured. The two clash due to their personalities, until a daring kiss brings them together. The two work together both on and off the field as the World Cup approaches. Grace wrestles with a potential autism diagnosis and Phoebe is diagnosed with ADHD, making this the AuDHD romance of your dreams.

I would recommend Cleat Cute for people who are fans of Ted Lasso and A League of Their Own.  

the cover of The Luis Ortega Survival Club

The Luis Ortega Survival Club by Sonora Reyes

In this YA revenge story, a queer and autistic girl is struggling to put into words what happened and decide if she has the right to be mad with the cute, popular person she had sex with at a party—where she didn’t say no but she definitely didn’t say yes. But when she finds other students determined to expose this predator, she decides to take him down.

This is the autistic revenge story that fans of Do Revenge will want in their TBR stacks.

the cover of An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts by River Solomon

This dystopian sci-fi novel features Aster, an autistic person who works on the HMS Matilda as a descendant of the original passengers journeying to a Promised Land. However, the ship’s leaders have imposed a brutal enslavement on the passengers of color, including Aster, and she learns there may be a way to end it if she is willing to start a civil war.

Aster’s autism is integral to the story and not for trauma-related reasons—her perspective on the HMS  (and the reader by extension) is thoroughly informed by her being autistic.

As always, you can get any of these books through your local library, indie bookstore, or through the Bookshop links above! Happy reading!

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

A Sapphic Asexual Manga Romance: Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Series by Shio Usui

the cover of Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Vol. 1

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I’m always looking for more sapphic manga with adult main characters: until recently, yuri stories between schoolgirls was about all I could find available in English. While some of those are great, I am excited to see more queer manga coming out now with other kinds of representation, including some fantastic F/F love stories between adults.

This four-volume series is a quiet love story between two coworkers. In volume one, Hinako is self-loathing. She feels defective for failing to fall in love (with men) and spends spends her time and energy trying to be normal through makeup, fashion, and unsuccessful dating. Meanwhile, Asahi is isolated because she had to raise her little sister when their parents died, which meant she had to grow up fast.

As the two of them begin to bond over lunch breaks, sharing donuts together, they struggle to define what they are to each other. Heteronormativity and allonormativity make it difficult for them to understand how they can be so important to each other without wanting a sexual aspect to their relationship.

This has a melancholic tone, but it’s also gentle and comforting. I liked the slow build of their relationship, and I was happily surprised that this has asexual representation. (The terms aren’t used, but both characters are probably lesbians on the asexual spectrum.) I also appreciated the side characters, like Asahi’s best friend Fuuka and her little sister Subaru. They added some levity and excitement to a more slow-paced love story between Asahi and Hinako.

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon isn’t my favourite sapphic manga: it’s a little sadder than I’d prefer, I wish the representation was a bit clearer, and the conclusion is a bit abrupt, but I still really enjoyed it, and I’m happy to see more adult sapphic manga available in English now!

A Sapphic Marriage of Convenience Manga: I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama cover

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Machi has been going along with what other people want for as long as she can remember, but she’s so sick of her parents nagging her to find a husband that she’s ready to marry someone they’d hate to spite them. She wasn’t expecting her (female) best friend Hana to volunteer for the role, though!

Yep, we’re skipping the fake dating and going straight to marriage, that’s how we roll here.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a fast, tropey read with a really cute art style. Machi and Hana have been friends for a long time, and work as a classic “the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one” pair, so their teasing and support for each other is lovely! And while the relationships starts off feeling unbalanced due to Hana’s pushiness and Machi’s passivity, its gradual evening out is fun.

I have so many mixed feelings about Hana’s pushiness, by the way; she’s mostly a cheery and flirty character, with her arc being all about revealing the serious core beneath that. But her response to Machi’s internalised homophobia (or what looks like homophobia) is sexual aggression that borders on harrassment. It’s presented as her issuing a challenge in the face of Machi’s previous knee-jerk reactions, and she always backs off without needing to be told, but it’s such a weird off-note with the rest of the manga. The manga’s tone is mostly funny, with jokes about boobs and playing with the stereotypes of heterosexual marriage! Hana pinning Machi to a bed to prove a point didn’t fit with that, to me.

But there is a serious core to I Married My Best Friend, in the form of Machi’s character arc—it’s my favourite part of the book. Machi grows so much as a result of living with Hana. She starts out completely detached from her own life, only doing what’s convenient and never actually thinking about what she wants. Her growth is entirely realising that there are things she cares about, and she’s allowed to say so! Whether that’s asserting herself at work, standing up to her homophobic mother for the first time, or trying to move from fake dating Hana to really dating her, she’s growing and changing for the better!

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a lot of fun. If you’re in need of some f/f fake dating in the new year: this is a good place to start!

Caution warnings: homophobia, sexism, parental abuse

Susan is a queer crafter moonlighting as a library assistant. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, reviewing for Smart Bitches Trashy Books, or just bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Identity in Transition: Us by Sara Soler

the cover of Us by Sara Soler

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Growing into one’s queer identity is often more a journey of discovery than a destination, and loving someone through the discovery phases takes one on the journey as well. Us by Sara Soler is a graphic memoir of love in motion. It follows two partners as they journey from perceiving themselves as a typic heterosexual couple, to realizing there was something far from hetero about both of them.

As one partner, Diane, discovers her identity as a trans woman and begins transitioning, the other, Sara, begins the self-reflection of what it means for her own self-concept. Diane’s struggle of finding her true self while trying to maintain the difficult balance on her relationship with Sara is truly heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. Meanwhile, Sara tells her own journey with stark vulnerability. She describes the conflicted feelings of going from being locked in the heteronormative mindset, to realizing she is in love with a woman for the first time in her life, and really exploring what that means to her. 

Us is a memoir unafraid to delve into the challenges. It shows both the heights of queer euphoria and the despair and darkness that can come from such a journey. It does so unflinchingly. Sara is unafraid to discuss the negative and unflattering thoughts she had in the early days of their journey, being willing to show herself as the flawed human she is. Sara’s openness in this memoir is important because she allows readers to journey along with her growth, to see her challenge the heteronormative thoughts she had from society and find both unconditional love for her partner, and understanding of her own queer self. Us is able to delve into these themes while maintaining a compassionate space for young Sara and Diane, and for all those who are less far along on their own journey of deconstructing gender and sexuality.

It’s the art that truly brings this story its easy accessibility. Drawn in a comforting, cozy style, it feels like a warm hug. Sara makes the fascinating choice to give the people who are supportive detail and definition, while leaving the people who have been unkind during their journey—and the outright transphobic people—mostly formless shapes. In part, this is likely to protect the guilty by revealing less of their identities. However, it also creates a stark picture of the people who are still stuck in the binary of gender and sexuality as less well-formed and colorless, while those who embrace their queerness burst into each page with detail and holistic beauty. The color pallate of the story further creates both a cozy sense and focuses on the gender euphoria: coloring everything in the shades of the trans flag throughout.

Ultimately, Us is a gorgeous memoir that can educate and move the reader. It is a lovely story made more powerful by the fact that it is true. Us invites us to become fully defined people, embracing our queerness and letting it make us whole.

Chris Ceary (she/they) is a psychology professor by day and a reviewer of all things queer media by night. They host the podcast Thirsty on Toon, which covers queer indie and small press media, as well as the podcasts Gotham Outsiders and Talking Comics. Chris can be found screaming about their latest reads across various social media sites linked at linktree.com/themythofpsyche

How Queer is Queer Enough?: A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll

the cover of A Guest in the House

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I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Emily Carroll, and A Guest In the House was no exception. The subdued, gothic scenes of the quiet horror of compulsory heteronormativity interspersed with technicolour dream sequences were extremely effective. I felt deeply for Abby, who seems to sleepwalk through her life, doing what’s expected of her, until she learns about her new husband’s deceased first wife, Sheila. Soon, Sheila is appearing to her in dreams and then even when she’s awake, casting doubts about whether her husband is responsible for her death. As Abby begins to doubt her husband, her careful quiet life unravels, and she goes to dramatic lengths to try to save herself from Sheila’s fate.

This was one of my favourite books I read in 2023. The artwork, as usual for Emily Carroll, is stunning. The story is unsettling and captivating. And that ending! I stayed up reading because I had to know what happened next, and then I finished the book not sure how to interpret those final pages. I ended up researching reviews to find different theories. When I woke up the next morning, I immediately picked it up and read it cover to cover again, and while I still have questions, I now have my own theories!

As I read through Goodreads reviews, I became aware of two things. One, people hate an ambiguous ending. And two, somehow many (most?) readers completely missed the queer content of this book, even though it’s not at all hidden. I ended up writing a whole post about this on my queer books newsletter with Book Riot, Our Queerest Shelves: “How Queer Does a Book Have To Be For It To Count?

The description of the book mentions Abby being “desperately in love for the first time in her life,” which can only be referring to Sheila—she has no romantic or sexual interest in her husband. She imagines herself as a knight saving Sheila. She pictures Sheila in revealing clothing, and when the ghost of Sheila calls her out on it, Abby blushes and stammers. More importantly, (spoiler, highlight to read) Abby and Sheila kiss on the page!! It may be a little distracting that they’re murdering someone at the same time, but there’s a kissing scene! (end of spoilers) How can that be misinterpreted as straight?

I’m still a little frustrated that I didn’t hear about this being a queer book, despite researching queer new releases and already being a fan of Emily Carroll. As I said in my Our Queerest Shelves post, “It’s disappointing that we still live in a world where queer people are still apparently harder to see than ghosts.”

If you can handle an ambiguous ending and don’t need your queer reads to be light and happy, I highly recommend this one. It’s an absorbing story with such stunning artwork that I want to frame pages and hang them on my wall. Emily Carroll continues to be one of my favourite graphic novelists, and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

A Cozy Queer Comic of Community: Matchmaker by Cam Marshall

the cover of Matchmaker

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This was a surprise, last-minute entry in my list of favourite reads of 2023!

I stumbled on this while researching new releases for Our Queerest Shelves, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was by a local British Columbia author/artist! I requested it from the library knowing pretty much nothing else about it except that it was queer and looked cute. I ended up devouring it in a couple days, and I’m now mourning that it’s over.

This follows Kimmy and Mason, best friends and roommates trying to survive the early 2020s in their early twenties. Kimmy is a nonbinary/genderfluid transfem lesbian, and Mason is cis and gay. As the title suggests, Kimmy is determined to set Mason up with his first boyfriend, which is made a lot more complicated during a pandemic when Mason is high risk.

This was originally a webcomic, which is obvious from how each page is set up to be somewhat complete in itself, but there is a narrative. We follow Kimmy and Mason through dating, breakups, and accumulating a growing group of queer friends. I loved these characters so much, and I was laughing out loud at several pages. It’s just such a cute, funny, and relatable read.

Kimmy is an unforgettable character. They’re over-the-top bubbly and silly, and they radiate confidence. I really appreciated reading about a fat transfem character who is so secure in themselves. They usually use they/them pronouns, but they also experience gender fluidity and change pronouns some days.

About halfway through the book, we find out Kimmy has depression, and they have to taper off their medication to start a new kind. As they go off their depression medication, they become an almost unrecognizable numb, closed-off version of themself Mason calls “Normal Kimmy.” Their friends support them through the weeks of this until they’ve adjusted to the new medication and begin to feel like themself again, including being able to better take in what’s happening around them.

This community of queer friends was the strength of this story. Not only have Mason and Kimmy been best friends since high school, but they also make connections with other queer people, quickly growing a supportive friend group. Despite the struggles they’re dealing with in terms of employment, the pandemic, dating, capitalism, and more, that rock solid foundation made this a comforting and cozy read.

This is not a short comic: it’s 280 pages. But by the time I finished it, I was already missing spending time with these characters.

I do have one complaint, though, and I hope it’s changed in later editions, because it doesn’t fit with the range of queer identities represented positively in this story: Kimmy refers to their lack of libido from being off their medication as being asexual, including triumphantly declaring, “I’m not ace anymore!” when their sex drive returned, which isn’t great, especially because I believe that’s the only mention of asexuality in the book.

That unfortunate inclusion aside, I really enjoyed this book. You can also still read it as a webcomic!

Cheesy Goodness: The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz

the cover of The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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Note: Though plot spoilers are restricted to the very end of the review, this review discusses some themes and character arcs in the latter part of the book.

As the first snow falls in my region, it’s a perfect time for a cozy graphic novel with grilled cheese oozing on the cover. Despite some quibbles, I had a great time with The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz, a lighthearted young adult romance inspired by the author’s own love story.

In the kingdom of Fromage, Lady Camembert can’t legally inherit her father’s fortune without marrying a man. Aware that she isn’t into men, her father suggests she move away and pretend to be his son. After his death, she follows his advice. She brings only one servant, Feta, who has been with her since birth. While taking on a masculine persona is no problem for the dashing, gregarious Cam, discretion proves a greater challenge, as she immediately makes waves at the princess’s no-furs ball. Cam has always been a fan of Princess Brie’s activism and develops a crush on her, causing no end of frustration for Feta, who knows Cam could be arrested if her secret gets out. 

If the naming scheme isn’t making it clear, this is a story more interested in a fun time than a realistic time. If you want to be swept away in an earnest fairy tale of a royal romance, be assured that this one doesn’t take itself too seriously. The expressive art style was what personally sold me on it and gave me the most giggles. Cam especially is a bundle of charm thanks to her mannerisms, ranging from debonair to excitable to flustered. The pages’ compositions effectively conveyed the story, with clarity, good flow, and emotional impact. Plus, Brie’s puppy is top-tier precious.

Despite the title, this book is less focused on food (if anything, the main characters are into fashion, which Cam nerds out over adorably) and more on whether it’s worth giving up true happiness to take a path focused only on avoiding pain. As is pointed out later in the book, many people don’t have the luxury of trying to actively pursue a good option in life and must instead choose the least undesirable path. Being a princess gives Brie more freedom to break boundaries and set a new standard, despite the societal limitations around gender and sexuality—yet even as an activist, she balks at the idea of upending the status quo. Meanwhile, from the start, Cam rejects the “safe” path of marrying a man, but then has to choose between the safety of living a secretive life versus pursuing a chance at love. 

Without spoilers, I’ll just say I didn’t personally enjoy how the midpoint turn played out or where it left the status quo of the main characters’ relationship for a portion of the book. I would have preferred a direction that allowed for more interaction between the main couple in the book’s second half. I also wished that Brie’s best friend, Ricotta, got to shine more as an individual. Her design and personality were fun, so I would have liked her to get a bit more depth outside of her support of the main couple, and for her to be more in the loop in the end. In contrast, I thought that the other main supporting cast members, Gorgonzola and Feta, had satisfying character arcs, as some of the most memorable moments involved them changing their approaches to the central conflict and theme. 

Everything else aside, I couldn’t stop grinning at Cam’s reactions from panel to panel, and I’m glad I read this. Order this book up if you like your romance with an extra helping of cheese.

The following content note contains spoilers:

This book contains an instance of a character guessing her love interest’s assigned gender due to a visual cue and then reacting negatively, which may be triggering for trans readers. As implied in the summary, the book also contains parental death and discussions of structural sexism and heteronormativity. 

Mental Illness, Diaspora, and Eldritch Horror: Where Black Stars Rise by Nadia Shammas and Marie Enger

the cover of Where Black Stars Rise

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Dr. Amal Robardin, a sapphic Lebanese immigrant who just started working as a therapist, finds herself deeply concerned after the mysterious disappearance of her very first client, Yasmin, a young woman from Iran who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Amal feels a responsibility to Yasmin, not only as her therapist but as a fellow Middle Eastern woman trying to find her footing in a new country, far from her family, and where it’s difficult to build a support system. Using the information that Yasmin shared during their therapy sessions, Amal follows these clues to retrace her patient’s steps. When she accidentally falls into an alternate dimension of eldritch horror, she must find her way through the confusion and chaos of this new world to save Yasmin—and herself.

There is, sadly, a tendency in horror for authors and scriptwriters to misappropriate mental illness or use it as a convenient—yet harmful—plot device. Where Black Stars Rise stands out because of its particularly raw, honest, and vulnerable narrative voice. Stories that are centered around mental illness will always be quite heavy, and while this book is no exception, it addresses the topic with such beautiful nuance and even a tinge of heart-breaking hope. Enger, who also has schizophrenia, brought a sense of themself into the characters as well as the captivating world building, all of which made for an extremely emotional reading experience.

Indeed, the design of the alternate world, “Carcosa”, is some of the most harrowing yet stunning art I have ever come across in a graphic novel. Tied in with the character design with which I am deeply obsessed, this book made me an instant fan of Enger’s amazing talent.

Another one of my favourite elements of this story were the conversations that the characters had with regards to family and culture, and how they affect the ways in which we view and understand our mental health. I felt a very personal connection to the characters, especially Amal. Her relationship with her parents is quite complex and nuanced, and while she has a lot of love for her family, she also feels a distance between them because of her queerness and her career choices. This distance is in turn amplified by her reluctance to return and visit them in Lebanon. I so appreciate Shammas and her talent as a writer, and once again, I felt as though she had put a piece of herself into these characters. Being Palestinian-American, it’s clear that the topic of diaspora and having a life and family that is split between the Middle East and the United States was an element of the story that was very personal to her, and it elevated the book that much more.

By the end of this, my jaw was dropped, and tears were freely flowing down my face. As much as it broke me, I loved following these characters through their different, yet intertwined journeys. Shammas and Enger built a truly memorable story, with one of my favourite quotes of all time:

“Most of all? I love that in horror, our storytellers are always right. They’re never believed, they’re cast aside and undermined and left to face the cosmic cruelty alone. But they weren’t wrong. And the readers, the audience? We bear witness to them. We listen, and by merit of their narrative or performance, we believe them in that short burst of time. I want to write that feeling into being. I want to be believed.”

Fans of horror will understand the power of this passage, and readers of all kinds will be able to appreciate the overall chaotic beauty of this wonderful graphic novel.

Representation: Lebanese sapphic main character, Iranian main character with schizophrenia, Black sapphic love interest

Content warnings: mental illness, schizophrenia/psychosis, body horror, blood, gore, suicidal thoughts