Your face is crooked. You’re going to make everyone you love sick and die. You’re ugly and no one likes you and you’re going to be alone forever. The bees flying around Isaac Itkin’s mind never seem to shut up. What if they’re right? Buzzing, written by Samuel Sattin and illustrated by Rye Hickman, is a look into the life of a twelve year old boy with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Isaac was recently diagnosed with OCD. Focusing is impossible with the same intrusive thoughts never giving him a break. He just wants to get through the school day and maybe draw a little before going home where he doesn’t have to worry about being such an embarrassment. His mom is busy and his sister can’t stand to be around him, so diving into his sketchbook is the perfect way for Isaac to escape all the noise. The particular unrelenting noise of his OCD is depicted in the form of a small squad of bees that encircle him at every chance, always colorful in an otherwise drab world. They’re always waiting to pop up and ruin his day, to convince him of things that are untrue that he can’t escape.
Then Isaac meets Micah at school. Micah notices his drawing of a dragon and asks if he’s interested in joining their Swamps and Sorcery game. Similar to Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop role playing game is all about fantasy, letting players be whoever (and whatever) they want to be as they work together. It also doesn’t hurt that Micah themself catches Isaac’s eye as he develops his first crush. Within the world of the game and the supportive circle of friends he plays with, Isaac finds life becoming more colorful day by day.
Buzzing is one of the latest graphic novels aimed at younger readers that features a RPG within the story. While parts of the game do come to life on the pages, the story isn’t so much about the game as it is about Isaac’s relationship with his new friends and his family, especially as they begin to understand his mental illness. His sister is learning how to deal with her younger brother’s new diagnosis and how to support him, even if she doesn’t quite understand.
His mom wants to keep him away from anything that could potentially be triggering and to live in the present in the real world, taking advice from doctors they’ve seen. Any reader who’s had to defend their interests to misunderstanding families will relate to Isaac and his mom. She only wants the best for him and has to listen to him to understand what that best really is. Sattin doesn’t write Isaac’s mom as bad or negative, but instead as a parent learning to understand what her son is going through.
Hickman’s art style features very expressive faces and the wordless panels contain just as much emotion as the others. The color palette fluctuates throughout the book. It’s colder and sterile when Isaac is feeling his worst but bright, warm, and colorful when he’s feeling joyful and accepted. The fantasy scenes will catch the eyes of RPG loving readers especially!
Buzzing is recommended to middle grade readers and has some cross appeal to younger teen readers. It’s also recommended to anyone working through their own OCD diagnosis or even to parents reading to better understand their child.
By Samuel Sattin
Art by Rye Hickman
Little, Brown, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Queer, OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)