Most people have awkward phases growing up. These phases might manifest as feeling like a body you’ve lived in all your life has become something totally unrecognizable or the upending of your worldview as what you thought you knew about the world and yourself is suddenly proven wrong. Creator Sarah Myer knows about awkwardness, having been born in South Korea, was adopted by a white couple, and grew up in a rural community where she didn’t see a lot of people who looked like her. She literally illustrates these feelings of not fitting in, along with her evolving sexuality, in her autobiographical graphic novel Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story.
Sarah Myer’s work isn’t so much about an awkward period in one’s life as it is about an awkward existence. People in her small town make unfair assumptions about her, many of them born from stereotypes. Unlike her adopted sister who seems to have no trouble fitting in, Sarah has always felt like an outsider. Art, as well as a love of anime, gives her an outlet and a way to connect with people, but she still has bouts of anger when she feels slighted. When Sarah acts out on these impulses, she feels like even more of an outsider.
Myer’s depiction of her childhood and adolescence is surprisingly raw and unflinching. Most would expect an autobiography to be more flattering to its subject, but Myer is willing to show all her flaws, such as an obsession with anime that sometimes alienates people and her tendency to angrily lash out at others. Rather than looking at her past through rose-colored glasses, Myer puts her past under a microscope for the reader while not alienating them. Though she reveals in great detail her feelings of not belonging, Myer presents her life’s experiences and discovering her sexuality in a way that’s relatable for people who also made emotionally painful but ultimately necessary discoveries about themselves.
One of the great aspects of the graphic novel medium is its ability to inject fantastic images into real-life stories through symbolism. The monstrous feelings of anger and isolation Myer feels manifests as something truly monstrous, a thing with sharp teeth and gleaming, reptilian eyes. When she finally confronts this monster, Myer showcases her love of anime with a battle worthy of Power Rangers or Ultraman. Myer also displays a deft touch with facial expressions to show those in her life expressing a range of emotions that isn’t often seen in a straight-up action title.
Those who might enjoy Monstrous, or those who might get the most benefit from it, are teens and adults coming to terms with who they are, whether it’s their bodies, their sexuality, or their own place in the world. The book ends on a high note that helps people who have at one time or another felt more than a little monstrous. It gives them hope.
Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story
By Sarah Myer
Macmillan First Second, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: grade 10-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Korean-American, Nonbinary