Publisher: The Penguin Group
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 Stars
What do aggressive facial hair, childbirth, an unhealthy obsession with the year 1993, and troll dolls have in common? Una Lamarche. Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer is a hilarious collection of diary entries, observations, and convoluted graphics, some of which involve the correct way to use a public restroom.
Lamarche’s memoir tackles the most cringeworthy challenges of growing up female. Leapfrogging from one side splitting topic to another, and in no particular order, she takes the reader on a ride through the pitfalls of childhood, puberty, and even adulthood.
Lamarche recalls, with appalling and humorous clarity, her first-time experiences with drinking, sex, jobs-from-hell, and learning how to drive. As the book cover indicates this is “the book June Cleaver would have written if she had spent more time drinking and less time vacuuming.”
I am not sure which I did more of while reading Unabrow: laugh out loud or grimace. Anyone who has ever endured childhood, high school, or parenting will appreciate all the cringey and hilarious moments of this memoir. Lamarche is unapologetic, honest, and brash which makes for some entertaining stories.
Who wouldn’t identify with her obsession with the show Friends and the proclamation that she is the “Chandler” of her roommates? Or an apartment cleaning routine to the Led Zeppelin tune “Stairway to Heaven?” Then of course, there is the titular situation where Lamarche discusses her eyebrows, which, from birth, had joined to form a furry, face caterpillar. Her facial hair pact with her sister is one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments, and deserving of being the introduction to the book.
Despite my being slightly older than the millennial Lamarche, her stories are ones that any girl who’s ever memorized lyrics to an entire album, or has been dumped by their sixth grade friends can relate to. The random and chaotic format of the book just adds to its charm, and it was as if I was taking a peek inside Lamarche’s brain. As as a result there were some things, like the restroom graphics, that I can never unsee or forget!
Publisher: Mariner Books Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir Pages: 233 pages Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 4/5
Alison Bechdel brings her troubled journey into adulthood to life in this groundbreaking graphic memoir. She chronicles a tumultuous relationship with her father while using lighthearted graphics, heavy literary allusion, and tough personal topics which redefine what we might come to expect from the “comic book” or “graphic novel” genre. Alison recalls moments from her childhood that may have led to the discovery of her father’s closeted homosexuality and his eventual suspected suicide, all while simultaneously discovering her own identity as a lesbian. Bechdel never quite comes to terms with her father’s actions or the truth behind his death, but it becomes a poignant story about making peace with the man that he was and the part he played in who she became.
Fun Home is a graphic novel that tackles some heavy concepts in an unconventional medium. The coined term “tragicomic” aptly describes the feelings of isolation Bechdel struggles with while growing up with her distant and private father, who is a staunch perfectionist with a quick temper. Her father’s fate is quickly revealed, and his supposed suicide sets the tone for the rest of her story. Despite the somber faces drawn on her cartoonish characters, there is the distinct undertone of a child who sorely wants to just be a normal child—and to be loved and noticed by her parents.
Fun Home is also able to effectively describe the struggle of a child trying to make sense of their identity when everyone around them is giving them contradicting signals. Its an important coming-of-age story for LBGTQ+ youth, as we see the signals in Bechdel’s childhood that she only took notice of in her adult years. However, this definitely isn’t a children’s graphic novel. There are mild but definite depictions of sex and masturbation as well as the unfortunate story of her father’s cavorting with his English students that present some rather mature discussions. The novel in all aspects is meant to make you think and reconsider the fear of recognizing your own identity and facing the judgement of your peers. There is a complex understanding between Bechdel and her father that translates to the reader as we try to decide if we feel sorry for her father having been born in a time he felt he had to hide his sexuality, or if we feel the same sympathy for her mother after dealing with years of infidelity and covering up her husband’s affairs with young men. We are also presented with the aftermath of Bechdel’s coming out, where she is rejected by her mother but is able to develop a novel relationship with her father in his last few weeks of life. If anything, these conflicts and tough emotions make for a profoundly honest story, because real people aren’t always easy to understand.
Her father’s career as an English teacher and his passion for literature passed down to Bechdel herself adds another layer of depth to Fun Home. Books play a huge role in how Alison comes to embrace her sexuality, and later a way for her to connect with her father who has always struggled with honest communication. Bechdel’s father hides behind his books, and uses them as a way to communicate his truth without coming out with it. He presents Bechdel with a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce, and the novel not only becomes an important part of her coming out as a lesbian, but serves as another point of comparison for the complicated relationship she shares with her father. Indeed, throughout the book Bechdel references James Joyce works to illustrate her story, creating a layered story that might be somewhat exaggerated as a memoir, but becomes a novel that takes Bechdel’s life and makes it relevant to so many readers in an important way.
The end of the novel makes it very clear that there are no cut-and-paste methods to make peace with the loss of a parent, especially to set back years of complicated emotion and pain. Bechdel was only able to connect to her father in the months before his death, and this was not nearly enough time to come to terms with her childhood and the actions that he took while he hid who he really was from the world and let that action tear him apart inside. As you finish the book, you as a reader can feel the unfinished resolution that comes from death. Alison Bechdel’s story as an individual is unfinished, as evidenced by her continued and successful career as a writer and a champion of LGBTQ+ representation, but the enlightenment she gains from her memoir resonates with any person that is struggling or has struggled to find themselves.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018 Genre: Fiction Pages: 384 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Ratings: 5/5 stars
Outside a small town on the North Carolina coast, Kya Clark’s family abandons her in a shack on the marshland, where she must learn to survive on her own, living off of the land she admires and studies. For years, rumors and prejudice follow Kya, known as the uneducated, wild “Marsh Girl.”
When two men from town become entranced by her wild beauty, Kya decides to open her heart to the vulnerability of love—only to find herself hurt and in pain.
After the town’s beloved quarterback, Chase Andrews, is found dead, townspeople point fingers at “Marsh Girl,” the suspicious figure that looms behind the twists and turns of the marsh’s waterways. How did Chase Andrews die? Was it murder? And if so, did Kya have anything to do with his death?
This coming-of-age story is my favorite book of the summer so far. It’s hard for me to characterize this book—other than to say it is a work of coming-of-age fiction. In some ways it is a mystery, revolving around the suspicious death of Chase Andrews and borrowing tricks from the crime fiction genre. In other ways it’s a romance, but it only offers small glimpses into Kya’s relationships with the two townie boys. Owens chose to focus more on the development of Kya and pain the men caused her. Still, in other ways, it has some elements of a young adult book, where Kya learns about menstruation and womanhood from a wise woman named Mabel. However, it targets a more mature audience in its commentary on human behavior, especially that of sexuality and violence. I think the fact that Owens borrows elements and storytelling strategies from so many different genres makes her work more compelling. Her story isn’t confined by one specific genre expectation.
The novel is a nonlinear narrative, containing switchbacks between Kya’s story growing up in the marsh and the discovery of Chase Andrews’ body (and subsequent investigation and court trial). Although date-jumbling like this can be a risky writing choice, I think Owens executed her plan perfectly. It was easy to jump between the two story strands, and I felt that she switched between the two parts of the story at the right moments, keeping me interested and not letting me forget about one narrative strand or the other. She never lost me once in all of the switchbacks, but I can’t say the same for some of the other books I’ve read that use this technique!
The protagonist, Kya Clark lives mostly in isolation with only the landscape to keep her company throughout much of the narrative. It was interesting to see a character like this learn to open up to other people and try to apply her knowledge of other creatures to her understanding of humanity.
The one critique I had was about the poetry of Amanda Hamilton that is intertwined throughout the novel. To me, the poems seem a bit trite and on the nose, but I believe this is forgivable once you reach the story’s conclusion. I’m jumping around a spoiler here, but the unexpected ending ties the novel together and answered my remaining questions, leaving me feeling satisfied with the story.
Because the book borrows from so many different genres and explores such an interesting protagonist, I suspect many fiction lovers will adore this beautifully-crafted novel.