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.
Buzzing By Samuel Sattin Art by Rye Hickman Little, Brown, 2023 ISBN: 9780316628419
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)
“To me fat was intangible- a feeling. And when I felt fat, I always managed to find it. But the doctors showed me that fat wasmore than a feeling, it could be numerically quantified. And the eating disorder doctors showed me that not only can you quantify a feeling, you can personify a disease.Iwas the problem. And weight was the only means by which the doctors could evaluate just how big of a problem I was. As for the rest of my identity… well, there was no rest of my identity.”
One of Hayley Gold’s earliest memories comes from when she was four years old, riding in the car with her father as they left the park. He turned to Gold and told her that her mother was a “fat, miserable person” who had made him “fat and miserable” as well. “She’s so fat and disgusting, no one could ever love her. She’s not even a real woman.” He said “ Don’t you want to be a real woman?…Then don’t be like your mother.”
And as Gold got older, her eating disorder grew alongside her.
Nervosa chronicles the difficulties of growing up with anorexia, as well as Hayley’s personal struggles to “become Somebody” despite the dehumanizing nature of a medical system that often “erases” those it seeks to help.
From measuring urine output in a plastic toilet cover known as a “hat” to the looming fear of Electroconvulsive therapy and “getting the tube,” Gold illustrates the day to day realities and indignities of life in an E.D. (eating disorder) ward.
But it isn’t the weigh-ins or the observed showers that bother Gold most. It’s not even the disgusting dinners of NuBasics (A now discontinued nutritional supplement Gold describes as having “such a high viscosity that I doubt it could even be classified as liquid”)—but the way the other patients around her seem to either define themselves by their disorder, or cease to define themselves entirely.
“It seemed that I could choose between losing my identity to the eating disorder…or getting my identity erased, so that I would be content to chug NuBasics and mystery pills without question. Either one was the same fear, my greatest fear—the fear of being Nobody.”
Gold chafes under the strict regulations of group therapy sessions:““No food talk, no weight talk, no numbers, no discussion of violence, trauma, or self-destructive behaviors. If you need to mention a food, refer to it as ‘item;'” meant to aid in patient recovery by avoiding topics or words that may be ‘triggering.”
It is her intense desire to become Somebody by creating something beautiful that “shows the world [her] Underneath” that sees her through years oscillating between restrictive hospitals and her verbally abusive home.
Gold isn’t the type to pull her punches. She resents institutional efforts sugar-coating her personal experience to make it more palatable for others. Nervosais Gold’s story, full of all the sarcasm, cynicism and gallows humor that got her into trouble at group therapy. She doesn’t feel the need to file down her anger and there is something both refreshing and deeply cathartic in her venom.
Gold’s memories are interspersed with the poems of Emily Dickenson, and parodies of popular magazine games, like Highlights hidden pictures and opportunities for readers to “help Hayley make her way through the maze while steering clear of hazards” like the kitchen or the lab.
Throughout her memoir, Gold makes the deliberate choice not to depict changes in her weight. Her appearance was often treated by those around her to be a correlative indicator of her mental and emotional wellbeing in regards to her eating disorder—something Gold became increasingly frustrated with as it was often incorrect, deceptive and reductive. By obscuring visual markers of weight, Gold forcibly prevents her readers from falling into the same habit. “To tell if I’m ‘sick’ or ‘better’ you will have to listen to my words.” By controlling the image in this way, Gold’s voice is brought to the forefront.
In addition to being an impactful and darkly amusing read, Nervosa answers questions about life with an eating disorder that often go unasked for fear of impropriety. There is quite a bit of harsh language as well as some nudity, though not in a sexual context. Nervosa straddles the line between older teen and adult, and would be a valuable addition to either collection at a public library. That being said, it’s definitely aimed at a more mature crowd, and would not be an ideal fit for middle school or junior high libraries.
Nervosa By Hayley Gold Street Noise Books, 2023 ISBN: 9781951491246
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Eating Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Character Representation: OCD, Eating Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)