Friendship comes in many sizes from acquaintances you’ve just met to those who know all of your inner secrets and then some. Some relationships are healthy while others are toxic. Healthy friendships provide safety and comfort, joy and happiness and that is what we all want in our lives: for those who are the closest to us to provide those very things that we want and need.

However, some relationships end not with a bang but with a whisper. Sometimes that whisper is so low, we cannot hear it.

“It’s Not What You Thought it Would Be” tells the story of two friends who share the most intimate moments of their lives and are stuck together like glue. But their lives change as one goes to university and the other does not, one moves away and the other stays in the same town they’ve lived in all their lives. There is no animosity or hatred between these two, just sadness and hurt on what may have happened to their very best friend.

This gorgeous book takes us through that process of coming together, separating, and reuniting. Each chapter is told in stand alone vignettes that, by their order in the book, paint a picture of decades of friendship in a swirl of crayon, charcoal, watercolors, and pencil. Each vignette takes on its own importance of medium with the colors and shading coming together and separating just as the friendships. In the final vignette, “The Wedding Guests,” Stewart is at her best by bringing together all of her mediums into one glorious vivid picture and the joy of the two friends being back together again.

Lizzy Stewart is best known for her three children’s books, her works in other books and zines, as well as her work a lecturer at Goldsmith College, London. Her experience with children’s books helps capture the spirit and mood of the friends’ earlier stories in It’s Not What You Thought it Would Be, diving deep into their relationship by the use of art, language, and medium. The earlier vignettes are in swatches of charcoal, much as a child who is learning to draw would use. Her use of crayon in later vignettes also strengthens her commitment to the mood of growing up, sometimes painful but often very joyous. 

In the the vignette, “Heavy Air,”  one of the best friends, with the help of her brother and neighborhood friends, puts together a house for a sick fox. In those moments, which as adults we would very likely dismiss, the friends experience the satisfaction of creating something beautiful and magical. The simplicity of the joy of nothingness is taken up again in the vignette, “The Dog Walk,” where we find our intrepid friends bemoaning the boredom of their day. When one gets the idea to climb up to the roof of one of their school buildings, followed by the other, they find that, while only their position has changed, their views of the world around them has expanded. They talk about life and how they think they are perceived by their classmates, which is cemented when a boy named Dan joins them. The mood is broken when Dan leaves and returns with a gang of other boys who want in on the magic of the roof. The friends are dismayed by the turn of events and leave, only to find that the magic they thought they gained and lost was in them all along. 

The book is rated 18+ but that rating seems a bit steep. Teens may find some joy and value in the unfolding story of two very best friends and how their lives intertwine and release over the years. It is not something that one of them did, rather it is the pains of growing up and moving on. This lesson can be felt even by those well into adulthood. Growing up may be painful, but it can be filled with joy and love with your very best friend who will always be with you.

It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be
By Lizzy Stewart
Fantagraphics, 2021
ISBN: 9781683964353

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  British

  • Lisa R.

    | She/They

    Reviewer and Content Editor

    Lisa contains multitudes. She is a content wunderkind, librarian, geek, and makes a delightful companion to trivia teams. She does not live in Brooklyn nor attend a fancy college. She spills her guts at https://lisarabey.substack.com and she can be found as @heroineinabook across the internet.

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