Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosamary Valero-O'Connell, 304 pp, RL TEEN
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me
by Mariko Tamaki
illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell
Review Copy from First Second Books
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me perfectly captures the way first love, or that crazy, intoxicating powerful love with someone you can't even believe bothered to look at you that makes you stupid and unintentionally mean to everyone outside your relationship bubble. With adult perspective, Tamaki (and really good teen romance movies) has captured what it's like when you fall in love in the close-quarters-incubator that is high school. Set in Berkeley, which adds a layer of diversity to an already diverse graphic novel, Frederica, or Freddy, is seventeen and so in love with her stunning, popular, charismatic girlfriend Laura Dean, that she has taken her back each and every time (totaling three by the start of the book) that she has broken up with her, including suffering through the public humiliation of Laura flirting with - and hooking up with - another girl at the Valentine's Day dance she was supposed to be at with Freddy. Knowing she needs help, Freddy reaches out to an advice columnist, with chunks of her email to scattered across the story. Freddy's best friend, Doodle, nudges her to visit a "Seek-Her," a psychic who, cryptically, to Freddy, anyway, tells her that she needs to break up with Laura Dean.
As Freddy tries to figure out how to break up with someone who has broken up with her, she finds herself sucked back into Laura's gravitational pull and letting down her closest friends in times of need. In fact, Freddy, in her passive inability to see beyond the attraction of Laura, becomes almost unlikable as a main character. Yet, in becoming so, she seems supremely adolescent and I applaud Tamaki's ability to bring this to the page. I have firmly put my adolescence - and first loves - firmly out of my mind, yet Tamaki's story telling and character development is so skillful that these memories are called up from the darkest depths as I see echoes of my own experiences in those of Freddy. Freddy's growth and change over the course of the novel is potent and the advice that she finally receives is delivered with such clarity and wisdom, it makes me sad that no one - or even a character in a book - had shared that with me when I was young and in love. Throughout the novel, Valero-O'Connell's visual storytelling creates powerful moods and emotions, especially the isolation that Freddy feels in her love for Laura. She also does a great job making it (almost) easy to understand how Freddy could slip into this dark space just to be with Laura, even if she does keep breaking up with her.