Coming Back is a romance adventure about magic, family, and the journeys we go on to find ourselves. A mythic sensibility and appealing artwork in dreamy, saturated earth tones makes this young adult title by creator Jessi Zabarsky a contemporary fairy tale to look out for.

Valissa and Preet are young and in love. According to the customs of their island of magical women, the next step in their relationship is straightforward—wait for a seed to wash ashore, plant it, and tend to it until it hatches a child. (Wait, where did you think babies came from?)

But Valissa goes off-script when a dangerous enchantment infests the village library. Valissa is a rare non-magic user, and she’s tired of being the dependent one in her partnership with magically talented Preet. She volunteers to descend into the library catacombs alone to safeguard the village from danger. Before she departs, a seed comes ashore for her and Preet, but they make the heartbreaking decision to return it to the waters—the village won’t allow Preet to raise a child without a partner at her side.

Time passes without any word from Valissa, and Preet is visited by the seed again. This time, she impetuously decides to raise the child by herself. Soon the community discovers her transgression, and she and her daughter are exiled. Even as Valissa descends into the library and excavates its uncanny secrets, Preet and her daughter go on their own surreal journey of self-discovery. What both women uncover will test their relationship—and the foundations of their society.

I loved the strangeness at the heart of Coming Back. Zabarsky’s artwork is cozy and accessible, with folksy scenes of homemaking and village camaraderie and a queer, multiracial cast. Yet its cottagecore charms are paired with odd, pleasantly incongruous images: tending to a leafy seed-child, exploring an otherworld of weird creatures, traveling through Wonderland-like portals in a magical library. Sometimes this dream-logic approach to plot makes for a puzzling read, with story beats that don’t seem entirely congruous with what’s come before. Still, my emotional investment and the pleasure of spending time in this world made for an engaging reading experience with a heartfelt resolution.

Coming Back is a bold, delightfully queer reimagining of what it means to be a family, as well as a parable about the power of questioning the expectations that are placed on us. At a disruptive time when many of us are forging our own paths in the face of self-doubt and dislocation, both teen and adult readers will find magic and affirmation in this book.

Coming Back
By Jessi Zabarsky
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9780593125434

Publisher Age Rating: 12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Lesbian,

  • Becky

    | she/her Senior Reference Librarian

    Reviewer

    Becky is Senior Reference Librarian at the Library of Virginia. Hailing from New England, she's previously worked as a reference and technology librarian in public libraries up and down the East Coast. Her love of comics was sparked first by the Sandman comics and later by webcomic pioneers such as Faith Erin Hicks and Dylan Meconis. When she's not immersed in government documents or wrangling microfilm, she writes SFF fiction, attempts to identify trees, and hangs out with her sweet calico lap cat, Catbus.

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