Ephemera, a beautifully written and illustrated graphic memoir by Briana Loewinsohn, opens with the dedication “For my mum and other things not built to last,” a perfect encapsulation of her story. Loewinsohn’s childhood was filled with plants in the place of family. She sought out connection and nourishment in the absence of a mother lost in her own struggles with mental health. It is filled with emotion, vulnerability, and rejuvenation among plants.
The story isn’t linear, rather, it is an almost poetic exploration of Loewinsohn’s childhood through the lens of her adult memories, processing the trauma from her childhood in a way that also embraces the small moments of love and beauty among plants from a mother who had little to offer. The book is split into 3 chapters, “Dirt,” “Water,” and “Light,” the ingredients for gardeners to properly nourish plants. Each chapter opens with a two page spread with the title embraced by plants thriving under the respective ingredients. It then alternates between scenes from Loewinsohn’s childhood among trees and plants with her as an adult, attempting to nurture the plants of her childhood back to health, rejuvenating the garden with knowledge she learned from her mother as a child.
Plants, flowers, and people need nourishment. Some survive in difficult conditions, and some struggle in conditions in which others thrive. The mother wilts, but Loewinsohn survives. Her mother, like many plants, is ephemeral, meant to be cherished, but not for long. It is a book of love and mourning. Of life, beauty and loss.
The pages where Loewinsohn as an adult gardens, remembering her childhood are illustrated in warm brown tones. The plants are dry and in need of nourishment, in contrast to the thriving spring like plants of her childhood. However, those childhood pages are illustrated in cold greenish blue tones. Much of her childhood in the book was alone with plants, vines and flowers filling the space left empty by a mother who wasn’t able to give her the nourishment she needed. But even if they appeared on the surface to be thriving, the cold lack of nourishment for the plants and Loewinsohn as a child, has led to pain and trauma that she attempts to explore and understand as an adult. However, with warmth and nourishment, the plants and Loewinsohn can begin to heal.
After reading a digital galley of Ephemera, I immediately pre ordered a print copy for my personal collection. I usually lean into the convenience of ebooks and audiobooks, but I desperately wanted to hold this book. It is beautiful. The publisher, Fantagraphics does the illustrations and story justice in its printing. The book is a work of art that will be cherished by many. It might not stand out on the shelves, but once held, its beauty is obvious. Ephemera is highly recommended. Adults are the intended audience, but this book may do well in high schools where memoirs or literary graphic novels are well-read.
Ephemera: A Memoir
By Briana Loewinsohn
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)