MMGM and #IMWAYR: Living with Viola, Good Talk, and more!

Hey y'all! This weekend, I had the chance to see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from five years ago. The new movie is pretty much as flawless as movies come, with a thoughtful plot, compelling characters, gorgeous and creative animation, insights about race, and so much more. It ends on a cliffhanger, but I'm honestly just excited for the follow-up in March 2024 because I have so much faith in the creators to do the ending justice!

As far as reading goes, it was an enjoyable if slow week! I took my time working through Good Talk, although my pace definitely increased as I got more immersed in Mira Jacob's story. Then I raced through Living with Viola in two days, which meant I have a breezy post of two graphic novels to share today. Let's dive in!

Middle Grade

Living with Viola

Written and illustrated by Rosena Fung
Graphic novel · 2021
Recommended by Cheriee Weichel

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Livy is already having trouble fitting in as the new girl at school--and then there's Viola. Viola is Livy's anxiety brought to life, a shadowy twin that only Livy can see or hear. Livy tries to push back against Viola's relentless judgment, but nothing seems to work until she strikes up new friendships at school. Livy hopes that Viola's days are numbered. But when tensions arise both at home and at school, Viola rears her head stronger than ever. Only when Livy learns how to ask for help and face her anxiety does she finally figure out living with Viola.

Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a personal story.

· · · · · ·

This story has a really kind heart, and it helps fill a really important niche in the graphic novel world when it comes to mental health!

I really appreciate this story's depiction of Livy's anxiety, personified in the form of Viola. As someone with anxiety myself, I really related to the intensity of Livy's self-deprecating thoughts—I suspect some readers will think they're unrealistic, but trust me, I too call myself some really cruel names almost instinctively when my anxiety is running the show up in my noggin.

I also really loved how this story incorporates realistic coping tools for anxiety. Livy effectively distracts herself from her anxiety through cooking, drawing, or reading—but as her worries intensify, they start to pop up even in those settings too. (Also something I relate to—music used to be a worry-free zone for me, until it wasn't, though I still love it so.)

And there's really powerful intersectionality when it comes to Livy's anxiety and her identity as the daughter of Chinese immigrants. We see how acts of aggression toward Livy or her family start to replay in Livy's own internal monologue, and we see how cultural stigma against mental health impacts Livy's ability to seek help.

I do appreciate how Livy's anxiety being depicted as a separate character, rather than her own thoughts, emphasizes how Livy truly is not in control of it. At the same time, the weird dichotomy of anxiety is that it both is and is not your own thought—you can't control it, but it also flows within your own internal monologue, rather than feeling external to you, and this book misses some of that internalization. To be fair, I have no earthly clue how you would capture both sides of that dichotomy through an intuitive visual language!

Living with Viola definitely tackles some heavy topics, but Livy's artistic imagination (unicorns! dumplings with faces!), zest for life, and newfound friends keep the story moving along at a breezy clip, which I appreciated. In terms of characters, I loved Livy's friend Charlotte, a studious kid (largely due to family pressure) who might not get her time in the limelight in other stories. I did also get a kick out of Livy's compassionate school teacher who peppers her class sessions with silly puns.

Rosena Fung's art is energetic and dynamic—the page layouts may be a little too busy for some readers, but many others won't mind, especially with the legible and frequent dialogue to keep things anchored. The color scheme strikes a balance between being warm and sweltering, rich and gloomy—it captures both Livy's excitable demeanor and the oppressive, consuming nature of her anxiety. I did love the frequent whimsical full-page illustrations.

I will say, I did feel like the plotting could have been polished more. The emotional beats are pretty much all there, and the most essential ones go without a hitch, but a couple others land a bit awkwardly. The story occasionally gets caught up in excitement and could maybe use a second to pause and process.

Despite that quibble, there really is a dearth of books tackling anxiety to begin with, much less graphic novels. And you bet I'm glad to see a book like Living with Viola that shows up with a thoughtful and realistic depiction of anxiety, a protagonist with meaningful interests, an intriguing art style, and classic MG energy! This book charts important ground, and I'm really grateful to have finally read it.

Adult Books

Good Talk

A Memoir in Conversations

Written and illustrated by Mira Jacob
Graphic novel · 2019

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

“How brown is too brown?”
“Can Indians be racist?”
“What does real love between really different people look like?”

Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob’s half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love. 
 
Written with humor and vulnerability, this deeply relatable graphic memoir is a love letter to the art of conversation—and to the hope that hovers in our most difficult questions.

· · · · · ·

If my review of this book is short, it's only because I'm drained of energy, not because this isn't the greatest thing ever, which it is.

We are all indebted to Mira Jacob for baring her soul—and baring the world—to us in this skillfully crafted, cutting, compassionate, and readable graphic novel.

This is a book of raising a mixed-race son in a country where Trump was president—raising a son who is asking questions, because every kid knows more than we think they do. This is a book of facing "micro"-aggressions—the ones that make White readers like me clutch their pearls and blithely say, "But you should never have to hear things like that!"—every single day. This is a book of emotions from living in NYC during 9/11, or watching a mixed-race man become the president of the United States, or watching your dad fight cancer. This is a book of fighting with, and loving, a White husband as an Indian woman. This is a book of facing "micro"-aggressions every single day. This is a book of enduring colorism from your own family. This is a book of growing up, and dating, and finding yourself, and how those things are hard in different ways, and in the same ways. This is a book of learning to look through the haunted eyes of the people who look, at a glance, like the same old perpetrators of the problem—and maybe they are, but that doesn't mean they haven't felt hurt of their own. This is a book of facing aggression every single day. And this is a book of learning where hope is hidden, for safe-keeping.

This is one of those adult books where literally everything is perfectly arranged and executed and it's all acclaimed and it's like, "Well, yeah, it is, because it's flawless." And Jacob writes this book with such a keen sense of humor—you will laugh, and you'll feel uncomfortable for laughing, and that's for the better, because you'll feel something.

Also, the craft choices in this book are genius. Like having the characters' facial expressions never change from scene to scene, a reminder that they are memories, a reconstruction of events that cannot be perfectly recalled. And also a reminder of the masks that people of color wear every day—that they wear even in their most vulnerable moments, just to survive.

Another great craft choice—the way named characters repeat in the background as extras, a reminder of how people's behaviors and mindsets can mirror each other, and how tracking that becomes almost a full-time job when you're trying to figure out what things people might say to target you, and why. And also how tempting it is to generalize and say one person is just like another.

And frequently layering all this on top of real-life photographs, rather than illustrated backgrounds, makes it impossible to forget that this isn't some picture-perfect luminous ideal world. This is reality.

I'd say this book is now on your reading list by decree of mine.

Random thoughts:

At this moment, I'm thinking about my very great fear regarding the laws being passed to target the transgender community here in the United States. I know countless states are passing laws making medically necessary care completely illegal for minors, like Texas's just-passed SB 14, and it is agonizing to think of the people I know and the countless people I don't know who will be directly or indirectly affected by these laws.

And however slim the chance that our current U.S. Supreme Court strikes these laws down, it still seems less slim than the chance that these states successfully elect new politicians who repeal the laws, since (a) I don't think much of the population cares and (b) gerrymandering means we can barely elect our own state politicians if we try. (Our democracy seems to be a bit figurative right now.)

I hope you are familiar with The Trevor Project, a truly spectacular organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth. They offer 24/7 crisis services via call, text, and online chat, additional services to provide youth with meaningful community, a brilliant knowledge base of resources, and powerful research and advocacy work. If youth who need support are reading this, I promise that you are not alone, and The Trevor Project is a wonderful resource. And if adults are reading this, please consider donating or volunteering with this one-of-a-kind group.

And I'm going to remind all of you to think deeply about who you are voting for in the elections over the next year and a half, keeping in mind that many candidates have actively chosen to align themselves with hateful ideology. I say this not to be divisive, but to welcome everyone into the world of standing up for communities that need our help.

Thank you for listening—it is appreciated.

That's all, y'all—happy reading! ✨✨

Comments

  1. I love your random thoughts at the end. I am staggered every day by the hate that is being spewed and the rights that citizens are losing. What happened to helping, standing up for, supporting, etc?!

    I look forward to seeing Spider-Verse as the first one was so good.

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    1. I totally agree, Helen—the bigotry seems to just go further and further, and it's hard to wrap my head around it all. I suspect I'm preaching to the choir on my blog here, but I figured I needed to say something!

      And the first Spider-Verse movie was SO good—I hope you enjoy the second!!

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  2. Thank you for the two lovely reviews and your random thoughts. Happy MMGM to you.

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    1. No problem—thank you for stopping by, Brenda, and happy MMGM to you as well!

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  3. I just saw another review of Good Talk, Max, will be sure to find it! As for the political hate going on, I am in touch sometimes with a former trans student who is working so hard to help others. It is a tragic time today to see all the laws being passed. Yes, must get out the vote! I also know of another group that have resources, the Transgender Law Center, seem good. I have hope but we cannot be quiet about what's going on. Thanks for your words, too!

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    1. I hope you enjoy Good Talk, Linda—it's such a great read! And that's wonderful that your student is fighting for trans rights, and you've been in touch with them. I also appreciate you bringing that organization to my attention, since I hadn't seen it before! And hearing you have hope gives me hope as well. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  4. Totally agree with your thoughts about anti Trans laws being passed. The Trevor Project is amazing. Both the books you reviewed sound timely and engaging. I'll be sure to check them out. Thanks for sharing about them. :)

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    1. Thanks, Kasey—and I agree, The Trevor Project really is wonderful! And no problem—I hope you find an enjoyable read from these picks!

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  5. This is the second time I've come across Good Talk today and it sounds amazing. Very important random thoughts.

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    1. Thanks, Lisa—and I definitely hope you get the chance to read and enjoy Good Talk!

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  6. These both sound great! I love the idea of personifying anxiety like that - sounds like a great way to help readers feel what it's like. And Great Talk sounds so thoughtful and powerful.

    Enjoy your books this week -

    Sue
    2023 Big Book Summer Challenge

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    1. I agree, Sue—I think the personification definitely makes aspects of anxiety explicit, where otherwise they wouldn't really be tackled! And Good Talk is definitely a meaningful read. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  7. I'm so glad you enjoyed Living with Viola! It left a profound impression on me. I just wish Good Talk was available in my local library. I think I will have to put in an interlibrary loan for it.

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    1. I really appreciate you recommending Living with Viola, Cheriee—I would never have seen it otherwise, and I'm really glad it resonated with you so much! And I hope you're able to track down Good Talk as well—I think it will be worth the effort!

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  8. Living with Viola sounds great! I love the idea of personifying her anxiety, what a super way to depict it (also potentially very dark!). I must watch out for it - thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. I'd say the peppiness of Living with Viola keeps it from getting too dark overall, although you're right that it's definitely not the lightest read! But I'm glad it sounds intriguing to you—thanks so much for stopping by, Valinora!

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  9. I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels, but I do like a good story. And Living with Viola sounds like one worth reading. Thanks for sharing your review.

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  10. It would be hard to come here as an immigrant from China like Viola does. Thanks for sharing your random thoughts.

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  11. Nice reviews of two very different books.

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  12. Thank you for your words at the end of your post. Good Talk was a community-wide read with our library a few years ago so it was great to get a conversation going with that book.

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  13. Anxiety is a problem getting little attention in schools. I'm so glad you shared your review of a book I had not seen yet. Thanks also for the info on The Trevor Project. I'll share it with a few families in need of such support. Overall, a great MMGM post this past week, Max.

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Please feel free to leave a comment—I always love reading them! ✨✨

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