A Chance

A ChanceIn A Chance, Spanish comics duo Cristina Durán and Miguel Giner Bou chronicle the experience of becoming parents to their daughters: Laia, who was born with cerebral palsy, and Selam, whom the couple adopted from Ethiopia. First published as separate volumes in 2009 and 2012, this engaging graphic memoir captures the day-to-day emotional and logistical complexities of Cris and Miguel’s parenting journey, one that calls upon the couple to embrace uncertainty and difference and lean into a network of professionals and loved ones to support their daughters’ complex needs. A Chance succeeds on many fronts, but its uncritical treatment of the international adoption process results in an uneven read.

Part One, “One Chance in a Thousand,” opens with the news that the couples’ newborn infant, Laia, is experiencing a brain hemorrhage. Cris and Miguel spend the next weeks in the neonatal unit, sitting with fear and uncertainty as they wait to learn more about their child’s prognosis. The medical details of Laia’s cerebral palsy are interwoven with the intimate experiences of bonding with a baby under medical care, an early infancy that’s nothing like the one they’d expected.

Once Laia is stable and at home, the family embarks on a tightly scheduled life of medical appointments and grueling physical therapy, punctuated by further health scares. Yet these tense first months and years are underpinned by Cris and Miguel’s love and gratitude for their daughter. Laia’s disability is a challenge, but it’s not a tragedy, and her happiness and quality of life are their focus. Cris and Miguel also emphasize that caring for Laia is a team effort; family members, doctors, and childcare workers step up to support the family, a vision of community care that’s radical and uplifting.

As Laia makes developmental progress and settles into a happy childhood, Cris and Miguel embark on the process of adopting a second child. Part Two, “Efrén’s Machine,” details this experience. While Laia’s complex needs were unexpected, their long-anticipated path to become parents to their second daughter is complex in entirely expected ways—a years-long process involving waitlists, screening processes, and finally, an international flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they meet three-year-old Selamawit at her group home and finalize the adoption.

Cris and Miguel document the emotional and practical demands of navigating the adoption process and bringing their daughter home. As with Laia, becoming parents to Selam requires a great deal of personal fortitude but gives them the opportunity to build relationships with a new community, one made up of fellow adoptive parents, adoption workers, and Efrén, the warmhearted driver in Addis Ababa who gives his name to this part of the book.

Three years before A Chance was published in English, Ethiopia’s parliament banned international adoptions. Cris and Miguel nod to uncomfortable aspects of adopting a child from another country; they describe their feeling of being out-of-place as white people during their visit to Addis Ababa, highlight adoption myths held by other white prospective parents, and contrast their experience with that of Tigui, an Ethiopian-born woman returning from Europe to her home country to adopt a child.

Yet A Chance never acknowledges critiques of international adoption as a system, one that is characterized by power differentials between rich and poor countries and, in the view of the Ethiopian government and others, has the potential to cause harm to children and families. These are thorny issues, and to be clear, what’s in question here is not two parents’ individual motivations for adopting a much-loved daughter. It’s the structural pitfalls that are missing, from falsification of documents, to economic pressures resulting in families having to give up wanted children, to the impact of being removed from a culture of origin. In the first half of the book, the authors reflect on moments when systems of care fail their daughter Laia—nurses who discourage Cris from trying to breastfeed, a daycare unwilling to accommodate Laia’s disabilities—so the absence of a critical eye here felt jarring.

Durán and Giner Bou have produced an impressive parenting memoir. Readable and emotionally engaging, there’s much in this book to interest readers who’ve had similar parenting experiences, as well as those seeking to learn more about parenting disabled and adopted children. A preference for dialogue over exposition gives the story a novelistic feel, and blocky, stylized art matches the gentle optimism that defines Cris and Miguel’s parenting story. Crafting a coherent narrative with a strong emotional arc out of a chaotic time in the authors’ lives, this book will be accessible to a wide range of readers, from longtime comics fans to those new to the medium. But the memoir format, with its tight focus on the authors’ personal experiences, may be frustrating for readers seeking insight into Ethiopia’s now-banned international adoption industry. 

A Chance
By Cristina Duran, Miguel Giner Bou
Graphic Mundi, 2021
ISBN: 9781637790038

Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Spanish
Character Representation: Ethiopian, Spanish, Cerebral Palsy, Disability, Mobility Impairment

Little Girls

White, blonde-haired Sam used to be called “Gaijin” by her classmates in Japan, now she’s “Faranj” in Harar, Ethiopia. She doesn’t have any friends to help adjust to her new life until she meets Lielet, a black tomboy who shares her love of horror movies and insecurity about seeming immature. When local reports indicate something is killing livestock and moving on to human victims, they can’t help but search for clues and maybe take on the mysterious killer on their own.

Little Girls has a lot going for it on the surface. Not only are the starring tween girls bonding over a killer mystery in the streets and fields of Harar, Ethiopia circa 2004, but a parallel story of the monstrous Kerit of Kenyan legend rising to power drives the tension to a fever pitch as the stories edge closer and closer to a climactic showdown. There is a seven-page sequence that directly juxtaposes the girls’ preparations and socializing with Kerit and the hyenas gaining ground and playing around. Cultural references intermingle, including notes indicating when a character is speaking Amharic or an Oromo variant dialect. Characters casually observe hyenas’ behavior and what their neighborhood is used to the animals doing. Lielet asks Sam about life in Tokyo, and she lights up while describing Harajuku and Shibuya. “We could go, and I could dye my hair blonde!” Lielet exclaims.

The coming-of-age angle is also relatively strong: Sam and Lielet both talk tough, but are really just yearning for connection. Lielet feels like an outsider compared to the local queen bee and her drones, including that she sees them as having changed ever since their bodies matured. Sam deals with the dual alienation of being an ethnic minority as well as moving to a new environment. Watching them enjoy Nightmare On Elm Street and other horror movies together brings to mind the friendship of This One Summer, and their plucky town map labeled with points of interest would not feel out of place in Stranger Things or Paper Girls. Family-conscious readers will let out a sigh of relief to see Sam answer to her father and Lielet to her mother (via her big brother)—meaning these two aren’t without some level of adult supervision in their lives. When the big, fuzzy Kerit intimidates them while saying, “Such… big things happening all around you. Little girls aren’t made to handle… such things…” readers will cheer their loudest for these two to prove themselves.

The artwork, including artist Sarah DeLaine and colorist Ashley Lanni, can feel detailed when depicting a cluttered bedroom or crowded spread of hyenas fighting lions, but is otherwise pretty sparse. The comic spends a lot of time following Sam and Lielet through drab streets and expanses of grass, with many panels relying on a single color for the background. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and combines with the wide grid layouts to make for a simple reading experience. However, when taken into consideration with the lackluster ending, the book comes up a bit short.

After Kerit is dealt with, the girls briefly debate Lielet’s older brother about the impact of their actions. Lielet writes off the exchange as her brother’s usual downer reasoning and the issue is not considered further. There is also an all-too-brief suggestion near the end that the book’s events somewhat resemble those of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War as well as ‘Selassie’s escaped palace lion.’ Readers will have to look up the significance of these events, as the book merely name drops them and moves along. There is also a standout moment at about 146-pages, where narration occurs to speak for Sam for all of one scene. These inconsistencies harm the coherence of Little Girls, a tale that seems to take pains for clarity in some ways but drops the ball in a couple of others. This is nonetheless a neat, self-contained tale suited for tweens and up, with the harshest content coming from violence between animals and the grossest lines being about collecting hyena urine (mixed with gravel) and cow’s blood (from a butcher).

Little Girls
By Nicholas Aflleje
Art by Sarah DeLaine
ISBN: 9781534310599
Image, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T (12+)