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

The Unstoppable Wasp, vols. 1-2

We all know Janet van Dyne, The Wasp, but Nadia, The Unstoppable Wasp, is a whole other experience. She’s smart, she knows it, and she’s here to shake things up, starting with the scientific patriarchy. Oh, and take down the organization that kidnapped and raised her. And make friends, even with villains. And finish her dad’s projects. And maybe take the bomb out of her friend’s head. Who needs sleep?

Every once in a while, there’s a comic that has a very sound concept, but has trouble with follow-through. Unstoppable Wasp is such a case; volume one is interesting enough at first, though a bit unbearably cheerful and manic, before descending into just kind of silly to the point of feeling pandering. Volume two picks up at the end of volume one, ties them together, and adds in another level of depth and interest.

My primary problem with the Unstoppable Wasp comics is the writing; the first volume especially feels like one long advertisement for diversity in science, especially with the significant number of pages at the end dedicated to interviews with real women in science. Of course, they’re not just women in science, but women in science who also have social media handles and/or are involved in TV or YouTube.

That’s great, and sure, we should talk more about it, but within the story it comes across as the White Savior bringing together her plucky team of disadvantaged girls of color. Because, of course, the rest of the team are girls of color, each from a slightly different background. It doesn’t help that after forming the Agents of G.I.R.L. (an unfortunate acronym that matches the phrase Nadia ascribes to it), the plot never comes back to them for the rest of the first volume. Thankfully, the second volume circles back and gives more detail to each girl beyond just say, Black, into pop culture, quirky dresser, and engineer. Overall though, there’s a weirdly strong emphasis on whether they’re interested in fashion or not, adding to a Barbie feel.

The art is also variable; the first volume is very smooth, but the girls all look strangely the same in body shape, facial features, and coloring. The exception is Lashayla, who is actually a darker-skinned Black girl, an unusual sight in comics. The second volume gives much greater visual variety, though Lashayla is strangely much lighter in skin tone, which is disappointing. The one consistent complaint I have with the art is that the girls all have overfull lips in both volumes. It’s a little disconcerting, but also something of a nod to older comics. Otherwise, the art does a good job of conveying the frenetic energy of Nadia and handling this very dialogue-heavy comic.

The most distinguishing feature of Unstoppable Wasp is that it discusses mental illness in teenagers. We’ve seen discussion of mental health in comics before, even in Marvel (consider the Mariko Tamaki run of She-Hulk), but as far as I know, almost never with youth. And the most remarkable part of it is that they don’t do a bad job of it. There’s discussion of likely genetic links, therapy sessions, and medication. There’s supportive family and friends, encouraging her to take care of herself. Mixed in with that is talk of having to separate the public, heroic image of a person and the personal image that can be more troubled. This means a brief discussion of domestic abuse; I wish that had been expanded a little more because it feels like that particular topic is brought up and quickly set aside, though not done poorly.

I can’t strongly recommend this series because the first volume is so rocky, but if you’re looking to add to your collection with more diverse superheroes and something tailored towards teens, Unstoppable Wasp is a solid choice. It would be a great suggestion as further reading for lovers of comics like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, or Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat.

The Unstoppable Wasp, vols. 1-2
By Jeremy Whitley
Art by Elsa Charretier, Alti Firmansyah & Gurihiru
ISBN:

VolumeISBN
19781302906467
29781302906474

Marvel, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T+
Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/208648-the-unstoppable-wasp-2017 (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Characters with Disability East Asian, Black, Latinx Queer,
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