Bad Medicine is essentially fairly good medicine—a graphic novel celebrating oral storytelling, Cree folklore, friendship, with five creative teens around a campfire by the river, telling horrific tales. The stories are cautionary tales that become more and more spooky as the teens try to excel each other’s stories and telling skills evoking monsters such as impish little folk, ghosts, shapeshifters, and demons from local folklore.
The first tale is told about the vivid experiences of a man fishing in the river in close proximity to the campfire where they are sitting. Although one of the teens protests from the onset that the story is not true, the others are a willing audience to the tale of the man and his fatal adventures with the small trickster beings in the river. The teens are spooked but ready for the next story which “is true, at least.” This tale is also eerie, but the malevolent creature in it is much too human and the story much too familiar for many young Indigenous women on their own. The third story begins in the daylight but, once again, the tale takes a very dark turn with the audience left feeling uncomfortable and uneasy at its conclusion. The supernatural in this story is perhaps not as frightening as the other evil creatures in the previous tales, but perhaps that depends on your perspective. Before the next storyteller takes a turn, one of the teens leaves the campfire to go home, not because he wants to leave but, as the others explain, because he needs to protect his sisters. His story is told next, but not as something that happened in the past. The horror is, unfortunately, much too authentic, happening to him over and over again each evening when he finally is at home. After he leaves, the four remaining teens safely extinguish the fire and make their way home in the dark. They are feeling satisfied with the evening and plan to tell more stories around the fire at a later date.
Brief and natural conversations around the campfire between each of the tellings and among the teens put the stories in context and make the reader feel that perhaps they too are sitting around the fire with the storytellers. The illustrations have simple unadorned backdrops that, at the same time, establish the distinct setting for each tale. The illustrations accentuate the natural world surrounding the teens as well as real-life concerns that also envelop them as they make their way in the modern world. The rectangular panels are coloured with a mostly subdued palette with the exception of the first tale, which offers bright yellows that fade away to the darker hues of browns and black for the remaining episodes. I did have a little trouble telling characters apart at times.
Writer and illustrator Christopher Twin is from the Swan River First Nations reservation in northern Alberta, Canada. He is a freelance illustrator and comic book artist currently living in Edmonton. He focuses on telling stories, both in text and illustration, of social and cultural divides and life as a mixed-race individual.
This graphic novel is suitable for a teen audience who like horror, scary stories, and realistic fiction featuring Indigenous people. Highly recommended for First Nation collections, those interested in the art of storytelling, and local Alberta lore.
Bad Medicine Vol. By Christopher Twin Emanata, 2023 ISBN: 9781772620870
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Canadian, Cree Character Representation: Canadian, Cree
Life isn’t easy for an ex-con. It is even worse when you’re an ex-supervillain in Twilight City.
Frankie “Playtime” Follis was a prodigy, pushed into villainy by her mother after she manifested the power to make any toy into a weapon. Now, fresh out of prison, she’s unable to find any work beyond making drinks at a seedy bar catering to the low-level supervillains she’s meant to be avoiding as part of her parole. Still, Frankie keeps to the code of honor the blue-collar baddies abide by, though she wants nothing more than to rebuild her life and win back custody of her daughter, Maggie.
Unfortunately, Frankie is pulled back into the life after the archvillain called The Stickman kills Kid Dusk, the sidekick of Twilight City’s protector, The Insomniac. This makes the stalwart hero snap, sending him on a violent killing spree targeting every villain in town while searching for Stickman. With Insomniac’s fellow heroes covering up his crimes, it falls to Frankie and a rag-tag group of has-beens and henchmen to bring Stickman to justice while Twilight City is still standing.
Minor Threats is not a wholly original story. Much as Watchmen put a mature spin on the classic heroes of Charlton Comics, Minor Threats is a dark and darkly hilarious Batman story that DC Comics would never dare publish. Most of the characters are clearly parodies of Batman, Robin, Joker, Riddler and more. Yet there are some original ideas, such as Scalpel, a supervillain surgeon who makes her living offering off-the-books medical care to costumed criminals… for a percentage of their earnings, of course.
Writers Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum make every joke one would expect regarding the silliness of costumed criminals, boy wonders and how many masked heroes need psychiatric help. Thankfully, Minor Threats proves to be far more than a collective of gags about popular superheroes and genre conventions. Oswalt and Blum bring true pathos to the five supervillains forced to become reluctant (not quite) heroes, developing them into full characters rather than cardboard cliches.
The five leads’ origin stories tackle a variety of serious issues, ranging from abusive parents to coming out of the closet to embrace true love. The effect is not unlike the duo’s previous writing for the MODOK animated series or The Venture Bros. Serious emotions mix with dark comedy to tell a truly original tale.
The artwork by Scott Hepburn is equally well done. Much like Dave Gibbons on Watchmen, Hepburn draws Minor Threats like a traditional comic book. This only adds to the visual dissonance as the action goes at right angles to every expectation of a typical superhero story.
Dark Horse Comics rates Minor Threats as appropriate for ages 14 and up. I believe that to be a fair assessment of the book’s content. There is a fair bit of violence and some disturbing scenes of children dying and parents being killed in front of their kids, as well as a bit of adult language. There is no nudity or sexual content, making this safe for most teen audiences.
Minor Threats A Quick End To A Long Beginning Vol. 01 By Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum, , Art by Scott Hepburn, Ian Hrring, Nate Piekos, Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506729992
Publisher Age Rating: 14+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Black, Gay, Neurodivergent, Ambiguous Mental Illness
In Layers: a Memoir, Pénélope Bagieu, the author and illustrator of the Eisner-winning book Brazen, explores the complexities of her youth with grace and wit. As adults, it is often tempting to view our past through a lens of cynicism or jest, especially when recounting embarrassing fumbles or difficult mistakes. However Bagieu cares for her younger self with respect, and in doing so she also respects the mistakes and fumbles of her young readers.
The book opens with the story of a beloved pet cat. The story is told with wit and humor, and some tears. You can’t share stories of childhood pets without tears, but it is a strong opening to a book that explores the complex spectrum of emotions associated with relationships and moments from our youth.
I think the intended teen audience will appreciate the emotional honesty of Bagieu’s work. Some of the memoir focuses on her days as a teen or in high school, but much of it follows her life in and just after university. It explores the awkward growing pains of this time, with a sense of pride for her younger self.
The memoir is split into chapters. They might better be characterized as comic essays, each one exploring a different theme or relationship. The stories are based on diary entries from Bagieu’s youth and range from lighter moments recounting some embarrassing story from her past to darker depths related to sexual assault and broken relationships.
In a few chapters, she illustrates difficult moments from her teen years paralleled against devastatingly similar ones from her life as a young adult. Literally paralleled. The stories from high school on the left side of the page, while the ones from her 20s on the right. It is a poignant choice to connect themes that are recurring elements in the lives of many young women who may read this memoir.
The handling of sexual topics is well done. It is a sex-positive book that does not use sex as a cautionary tale but does accurately portray the ways that young adults must navigate it. In one scene a nurse at a Planned Parenthood gives Bagieu advice on sexual health. In that essay, she notes how eternally grateful she was as a teenager to get clear and honest advice about sex from an adult. At a moment that for many may be filled with shame and embarrassment, she was treated with respect and care. I believe that Bagieu holds the same level of respect and care to her younger readers in the way she discusses sex in the book.
The hand-drawn black and white illustrations are not crisp and clean. The style isn’t dissimilar from her work in Brazen. But unlike in Brazen, she took away the color and added some chaos to the lines. When we look back on the chaotic time in our own lives in the transition from teen to adult, this stylistic choice is incredibly appropriate. Black and white pictures, with harried lines, are also reminiscent of the thoughts (sometimes in words and sometimes through pictures) scribbled into the diaries of young people.
Many adults, when imparting learned wisdom to the younger generation, condescend and/or tell their stories through rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and focus on the lessons. However, despite telling stories from 20 years ago, these essays feel fresh and relevant to today’s teens. She does not organize the chapters on passed-on lessons, rather she focuses on honest snippets of her life. The moments of struggle juxtaposed against levity are honest and refreshing.
I think it is a strong choice for collections serving teens, and I think many young people will see themselves in the pages of the book.
Layers was originally published in France in 2021, and has been translated to English by Montana Kane.
Layer A memoir Vol. By Pénélope Bagieu, Montana Kane, , Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250873736
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: French,
Life on the Isle of Man is peaceful and quiet, and it is driving Kay Farragher mad! An aspiring songwriter and singer, Kay dreams of a world beyond her rural village and caring for her ailing grandmother. She dreams of a life on stage and audiences outside of the pub where she works.
The problem with dreams, however, is that sometimes they become nightmares.
A chance encounter with a young girl named Mona on Halloween Night gives Kay more than she bargained for. Mona claims to have come from a world of eternal twilight, straight from the faerie stories Kay’s grandmother believes in. Soon Kay finds herself neck-deep in that world, where a horseshoe is a weapon, a hero of legend seeks the bride he was promised, and the scoundrels of two worlds seek to scheme their way out of their own dark bargains.
I had high expectations heading into Cold Iron. Apart from a fondness for Celtic mythology and horror tales involving faeries, I am a big fan of Andy Diggle’s writing and have been since his highly underrated run on Hellblazer. I was not disappointed.
Two things distinguish Cold Iron from similar stories. One is the setting, which draws upon the unique mythology of the Isle of Man, rather than the more familiar Irish Leprechauns or the Selkies of Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The other is the lead character Kay, who is developed far beyond being the typical strong female protagonist that takes center stage in many modern horror stories.
Kay is a conflicted character, being both a dreamer and a realist. She delights in entertaining children with spooky tales and songs at Halloween, but she doesn’t believe in the myths her grandmother accepts as gospel. She longs to see the world, but wants to maintain the family farm, even as she rebels against the idea of a comfortable life working in a fish and chips shop and marrying her on-again/off-again boyfriend. These details make Kay seem more sympathetic and more real, grounding the fantastic elements of the story.
The artwork by Nick Brokenshire, with colors by Triona Farrell and letters by Simon Bowland, manages a similar balancing act. Brokenshire proves equally adept at capturing the static beauty of the Isle of Man and in depicting the weird horror of the faerie realm. Farrell uses different contrasting palettes for both worlds, with the vibrancy of the twilight realm offering a firm divide against the stark reality of Kay’s life. Bowland also uses distinctive fonts for the Fair Folk, to subtly hint at their alien nature.
Dark Horse Comics rated this volume as appropriate for ages 12 and up. I think that might be a fair assessment of the story, which has nothing more objectionable than a bit of violence and a few curse words. The artist notes in the back of the book, however, feature some sketches of naked fairies that are a bit extreme for a T-rating. I would shelve this volume in the older teen or adult section just to be safe and since I think the story is more likely to appeal to older audiences, who can appreciate the full horror Mona finds in the future.
Cold Iron By Andy Diggle Art by Nick Brokenshire, Triona Farrell, Simon Bowland, Tom Muller Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506730875
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: British, Irish, Scottish, Character Representation: British,
Life is difficult and emotions get in the way, so when surgery to numb the pain and remove hearts becomes available, people are intrigued. No need to suffer through the pain and grief from loss. Everyone, it seems, signs up for the procedure. Everyone, but June. The Faint of Heart by Kerilynn Wilson is a beautifully crafted graphic novel that explores the importance of emotional connections.
June feels alone with a heart in a world without them. Her family is dismissive, she no longer has friends, and teachers chastise her for imperfection. With no heart, all emotions are numbed, not just the painful ones. No more emotional distractions to get in the way of success in school and work. Relationships lose their importance, and family life becomes cold and calculated. But once numbed, these sacrifices no longer feel relevant.
June is different, She is an artist and she cherishes her emotions. She observes her friends and family that alongside the loss of pain, also lose empathy and interpersonal connections. June becomes more and more determined, not only to keep her heart but to help those who are numbed to begin to feel again. It is more complicated than she anticipated, but with the help of a friend, who despite the loss of a heart, is beginning to experience emotions again, June goes on a mission to find the scientist who started this whole thing.
The Faint of Heart is being marketed as a YA mixture of Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and Severance. It is a well-crafted story that explores some of the same themes related to love, loss, and definitions of success or happiness. It is an analysis of our relationships with ourselves and each other. These themes may resonate with teens who face a daunting future as they navigate new and difficult emotions and relationships.
Wilson’s artwork is gorgeous. Just as our emotions bridge connections with others, wisps of fibers connect panes across some page spreads, She also expertly uses color throughout the book. Many of the illustrations are in black and white with splashes of yellow, orange, and blue to illustrate heart and emotion. As the story progresses, and the emotions begin to shift, so does the use of color. Her illustrations help to illuminate the beauty in life that would be lost without emotional connections.
This is Wilson’s debut graphic novel and hopefully is an indicator of great stories to come. The illustrations in The Faint of Heart are exquisite and beautifully capture the characters and themes from Wilson’s story. It will be purchased for my high school collection, where I am confident it will find a number of readers. With a mixture of science-fiction and a character-centered story, it will appeal to readers from a number of genres, whether or not they are new to the graphic novel format. I recommend it for graphic novel collections serving teens and older middle-grade readers.
The Faint of Heart By Kerilynn Wilson Harper Collins, 2023 ISBN: 9780063116214
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and U
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Teen Titans: Robin was uncharted territory for me and yet oddly familiar at the same time. As a teen librarian, I was familiar with Kami Garcia’s novels, but I had never read any graphic novels she had written. I was likewise well versed in the Teen Titans characters, but this was unlike any Teen Titans comic I had read before. I didn’t recognize the name of artist Gabriel Picolo, but I recognized his art from various social media posts showing more slice-of-life Anime inspired takes on the Teen Titans characters.
This helped ease me into Teen Titans: Robin, which is the fourth volume of Garcia and Picolo’s series of young adult graphic novels. I hadn’t read the original trilogy of Raven and Beast Boy books, but that didn’t prove to be a major obstacle. This volume is surprisingly accessible to those who, like me, were lured in by the Robin name without any thought of this being part of a larger story.
The graphic novel opens in the thick of the action, with Rachel Roth, Garfield Logan, Damian Wayne and Maxine Navarro on the run. They escaped from HIVE and the man called Slade Wilson who had lured them in to become test subjects due to their amazing powers. At the same time Slade is hunting them they are also being hunted by Dick Grayson, whom Damian recognizes as the adopted son of his biological father.
As one might expect given the title, the focus of this book is on Damian and Dick and the difficulties they face in trying to start a supportive sibling relationship. Most of the difficulties are on Damian’s side, as he views Dick as the perfect son that his father chose to adopt, whereas he was literally left on Batman’s doorstep for him to deal with unexpectedly. Dick, for his part, has trouble trying to understand where Damian is coming from and why he has a hard time accepting help and honest emotion after being raised by a group of assassins. However, the story also continues the development of Raven and Garfield’s romance from the earlier books in the series, and sets up a romance between Damien and Maxine as well.
Garcia has a terrific grasp of the teen psyche and has done a marvelous job of developing the classic Titans characters from the comics into a form that grasps their essential personalities while conforming to classic young adult literature tropes. Her characterizations are well-matched by Picolo’s art, which grounds an otherwise fantastic narrative as the teens train their powers and abilities, building up to a thrilling chase scene that closes out the novel. The final effect is reminiscent of a children’s adventure movie, like The Goonies or The Monster Squad.
Teen Titans: Robin is rated 13+ by the publisher and I consider that to be a fair rating. There’s no sexual content beyond kissing and no violence beyond martial arts sparring. There are a few intense moments where Raven tries to use her powers to see through the eyes of her demonic father, Trigon, but nothing inappropriate to the intended teen audience.
Teen Titans: Robin (Teen Titans, bk 4) By Kami Garcia Art by Gabriel Picolo DC, 2003 ISBN: 9781779512246
As I Enfold You in Petals begins with several pages of wordless panels and near wordless panels depicting people in a huge line waiting to enter, one family at a time, the home of Benny the Bank, a notorious bootlegger first met in the first volume. The people are waiting to impress Benny on his birthday with promises and gifts. The winner will receive a substantial amount of cash, but it is an almost impossible task.
Curtis joins the line. He has just returned to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, after fighting forest fires and six weeks in rehab for alcoholism. His gift is definitely a surprise for Benny: his lost watch, found when Curtis was fighting fires. Curtis does not want the cash; he wants title to his grandfather’s home which is now owned by Benny. Curtis is interested in helping others in Fort Smith in the struggle with alcoholism and wishes to connect with Louis, his grandfather. Louis’ legacy is as a healer who received his gifts from the Little People and Spirit Helpers.
Curtis’s invitation to the Little People is through a song which is witnessed by Benny and Crow, a mysterious female friend of Benny’s. Benny tells her “As I Enfold You in Petals,” a poetic phrase borrowed from letters he read from Curtis’s father to his wife. The reader also discovers Benny’s secret wishes and his illness in his conversations with his sons. All is dependent on Curtis regaining the trust and support of the Little People.
Written byRichard Van Camp (he/him/his) a proud member of the Tlicho Nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Yaciuk and Nickolej Villiger. The first volume, originally published in black and white, has been completely revised by the four creators to provide a fresh and colorful rendition of the story. The newly released volume (2022) includes a precise essay regarding the background of this story as well as an essay on the interactions between the Japanese and the Dene.
It is a delight to have such a positive depiction of Dene spirituality and the people in this superb story of hope, strength of spirit, and redemption. The story celebrates family connections, memories, and stories through the text and the stunningly illustrated and colored illustrations. The pacing created by the panels, along with the rich and diverse coloring scheme, enfold readers into this story of cultural awakening and knowledge, leaving them satiated and complete. The characters and setting are vivid and authentically brought to life while the revisiting of memories is clearly delineated by sepia tones providing an accessible and seamless reading experience. Materials in the back provide information and cultural context about traditional Inuit tattoos that appear in the graphic novel.
The Spirit of Denendeh: As I Enfold You in Petals Vol. 2 By Richard van Camp Art by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Vaciuk, Nickolej Villiger, Highwater Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781774920411
Publisher Age Rating: 15+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Indian American, Dogrib Dene, Character Representation: Indian American, Dene, First Nations or Indigenous, Addiction
Shuna’s Journey is inspired by an ancient Tibetan folk tale about a young prince on a quest for barley in time of famine that fascinated creator Hayao Miyazaki. In Miyazaki’s hands the tale grew wings to tell the story of Shuna who, after hearing about the coveted golden grain seeds confined by the god-men in a land to the west where the moon resides, journesy to that land.
The original reworking was published in 1983 and was adapted into an hour-long radio drama broadcast in Japan in 1987. This is the first English translation. While the pages read right-to-left manga style, the layout largely resembles an illustrated picture book with limited dialogue and the text in non-bordered narration boxes abundantly sprinkled throughout the delicately rendered and coloured illustrations. Clothing styles, artifacts, and landscapes offer clues to the story’s cultural origins while also illuminating the fantastic. The result is an eerie, magical, and thoughtful tale reminiscent of an orally told tale. It is told simply with short sentences and not excess descriptions. The language is evocative and precise.
Shuna travels with his mount Yakul, an elk-like creature who was the source of inspiration and the namesake of Ashitaka’s mount in Princess Mononoke. Their adventures over the bleak and dangerous landscapes bring them into contact with female cannibals, slavers, and the young slave Thea and her young sister. After rescuing the two girls, Shuna reaches the western edge of the land. He leaves Yakul with them and crosses the wide water to the land of the god-men. There he witnesses the role of the moon in the creation of the giants and the planting and miraculous growth of the barley. He manages to take some of the golden grain, causing a great deal of pain to himself. He escapes and returns to the land to the east, but at intense cost.
In the short afterward, Miyazaki discusses his fascination with the folktale, “The Prince Who Turned into a Dog”. In the much longer following essay, translator Alex Dudok de Wit discusses his journey with the adaptations, Miyazaki to his origin tale, and its publication history beginning in 1983. De Wit explains that this format is a emonogatari—illustrated with exquisite and detailed watercolours—rather than a manga. De Wit also contrasts this novel to Miyazaki’s later animated works considering this work as a prototype for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. Like these later works, this story addresses questions of morality and greed, especially relevant today. The story also delineates the transition into maturity for the main characters.
Shuna’s Journey is both a fascinating look at the creator’s earliest work and a dramatic but quietly reflective narrative that I highly recommend for readers, especially for those over the age of 12. The adventures are often blood curdling but, at the same time, understated. The main characters look rather young throughout the book, but are definitely mature enough to weather the hardships and challenges continuously thrown at them.
Shuna’s Journey By Hayao Miyazaki Macmillan First Second, 2022 ISBN: 9781250846525
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Tibetan
Liliana, a planeswalker who can travel between planes aka dimensions, is taking time to reexamine her life as she teaches necromancy in Strixhaven. Unfortunately, her time there is interrupted by Tezzeret (another planeswalker)waiting in her office, where he attempts to kill her.During their battle, Tezzeret mentions some interesting facts about a planeswalker Liliana has never heard of in connection with a deadly opponent, Marit Lage. Once Tezzeret is defeated and flees, Liliana explores the vast Strixhaven library to learn more about Isona Maive, who has a rare amplification power. However, there is more to the story than the library reveals and soon Liliana must make a difficult choice: to be a hero or the villain.
Although this is a standalone volume, it is highly connected to the main comic series Magic from BOOM! Studios. There are several places within the story that are glossed over with a note that directs the reader to specific issues to read more. I don’t think this volume stands up by itself and would highly recommend that it only be added to collections that are also purchasing the main Magic series. This graphic novel series is not canon to the trading card game it is related to, but I loved learning more about the planeswalkers’ adventures and relationships. Isona is not currently part of the game, so it was exciting to explore an entirely new character.
The consistency of the artwork in this volume is great and each planeswalker is given a color scheme that matches their personality, making it easier for readers to follow the action depicted. I prefer when the same artist is used across issues for long running storylines, so it is great that the same artist is used for the main series as well as the side stories. This is especially helpful with so many different characters featured across arcs. High school and older readers will appreciate this world the most.
Magic: The Hidden Planeswalker By Mairghread Scott Art by Fabiana Mascolo BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684158553
Related media: Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
High school is a time of transition. A time for coming of age. Relationships change. Both family and friends. Some end, others evolve, and new ones emerge. You begin to see yourself in a new light. It’s a time when many are suspended in limbo. For Deb JJ Lee, a Korean-American author and illustrator, their high school years were a time of tumultuous self-discovery. In Limbo is Lee’s graphic memoir chronicling the choppy waters of adolescent relationships and sense of self.
Lee struggles to find their place at home and at school. After emigrating from South Korea as a young child, they struggle with their identity and being other, not really Korean but not really American.
The memoir navigates relationships and emotion with great care and depth. After years of playing the violin, Lee comes to the realization that their passion is art, not music. The transition is difficult. Friends are in the orchestra and their parents invested so much time and money in lessons. This limbo between music and art is the theme throughout their freshman and sophomore year. And, as with the other themes of transition throughout the book, there are moments of dread and moments where the weight is lifted and Lee feels happiness or at least some peace. This is clearly communicated through the changing imagery in Lee’s illustrations. Their posture and facial expressions transition from feelings ranging from bored through sadness and loneliness to contentment if not happiness. During the lowest of lows, the panels fill with black smoke, drowning out everything else. But as they emerge from limbo with greater peace, the illustrations begin to shift as well. Rather than focusing on illustrations, Lee begins to find beauty in the details of every day. The pages turn into intricately drawn slice-of-life illustrations. But the peace is temporary, as they continue to navigate life transitions.
Lee’s story will be validating for many. Childhood friendships evolve and no longer seem to fit, and even new brighter friendships sometimes start to fade. These feelings are both devastating and almost universal for teenagers.
From the beginning it is also clear that the mother and child relationship is strained, another very personal and universal experience. However, as the memoir unfolds, it is clear that this mother is abusive, and that the strain in the relationship is far from universal. There are moments when the mother seems to begin to understand her child. When transitioning from music to art, Lee’s mother supports and encourages them, knowing that she must support what her child’s passions are, not what she wants them to be. However, that moment is more of an exception than a rule.
At one point in the memoir, Lee suggests that their mother avoided scrutiny from CPS because of “tiger mom” stereotypes of Asian mothers. Lee’s relationship with their family is complicated. Lee at times fears their mother, but at other times feels loved and supported. The dad is mostly sympathetic and warm but allows the abuse to continue. The complexity of the family dynamics unfold in the narrative as teenage Lee begins to unpack their trauma, a choice that invites the audience to acutely feel the betrayal.
The story will be validating for many. Lee is honest about their struggles and journey with relationships and mental health as a teen. There are no clear-cut solutions or fulfilling peace in the end, but there is therapy and the sense that they are on their way to self-acceptance.
In Limbo is not an easy book to read. The pace of this memoir is slow and deliberate. It focuses on Lee’s arc as a teen coming into themselves, rather than the events of their high school years. The content is also heavy. The book includes depression, abuse, and suicide attempts. However, for those who find their way to this memoir, it is a rewarding experience. I will highly recommend it to students who are fans of Tillie Walden, weighty memoirs, or anyone who needs reminding that the comic medium is a literary art form worthy of acclaim.
In Limbo By Deb JJ Lee Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250252661
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Korean-American, Nonbinary, Depression Character Representation: Korean-American, Depression