Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are best friends, muddling through high school together. In the previous volume, the four girls worked together to get their high school to carry free menstrual products in the girls’ bathrooms. Now, Abby is determined to go further: to convince the school to carry the products in all bathrooms so that trans and nonbinary students can access them. Meanwhile, Sasha is so wrapped up in her boyfriend that her grades are slipping, which hurts her self-esteem. Brit is dealing with endometriosis and with two boys vying for her attention. And Christine is still not ready to come out to everyone—or to admit she has a massive crush on Abby.
Educating readers about menstrual issues is part of the authors’ goal, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this volume, like the first one, can be a little didactic. At the beginning, Brit explains endometriosis to her friends, accompanied by cartoon diagrams of a uterus. After that, though, Look on the Bright Side focuses mostly on crushes. Christine is scared to confess her feelings to Abby; Abby isn’t sure about her own orientation; and Brit finds herself reenacting Pride and Prejudice with two boys in her class. (Despite being a huge fan of the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, Brit never comments on how closely her love life parallels that story: she is torn between a grumpy-but-noble boy named Fitz and a charming scoundrel named Jorge.)
All the protagonists are imperfect but good-hearted and easy to root for. They make mistakes and struggle with misunderstandings and fears, but they overcome these challenges with help from each other and from their families. While the girls’ friendship is central to the book, we also get at least a glimpse of each girl’s family, all of whom seem loving and supportive. Their school environment, too, seems positive. The high school has a new principal since the events of the last book and there is an active LGBTQ+ club.
The art is colorful, with a simplified cartoon style. The characters are all distinct, in part because they include a variety of races and body types. The backgrounds include enough detail to set the scenes, which are generally at school, outside, or at the girls’ homes. The focus, though, is on the characters. Despite the simplicity of their designs, they are expressive—important in a book with so many emotional plotlines. Their feelings are often underscored by scribbles or smudgy textures in the backgrounds of the panels, especially when the characters are stressed.
There are lots of crushes in this book, but no nudity or sexual content beyond a couple of quick kisses. There is one discussion in which the girls joke about wishing for bigger or smaller boobs. Characters discuss attraction, but not in terms more explicit than, “I think she’s cute.”
Despite being set in high school, this book fits nicely among the many popular graphic novels depicting the trials of middle school life. That’s a good thing, because middle school readers may benefit most from clear discussion of menstrual issues. And while this book does drop a fair amount of information on endometriosis, it centers on friendships, romance, helping others, and figuring out life. The heroines are relatable and kind. This volume can stand alone, but reading Go with the Flow first will provide some context (and a lot more menstrual information). Hand both books to fans of authors like Raina Telgemeier, Megan Wagner Lloyd, and Kayla Miller.
Look on the Bright Side
By Lily Williams
Art by Karen Schneeman
Macmillan First Second, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: African-American, Lesbian, Queer