Guts by Raina Telgemeier, 224 pp, RL 4
Guts by Raina Telgemeier
Review Copy from Graphix / Scholastic
With GUTS, Telgemeier delivers her most important graphic memoir to date, giving readers an honest, powerful look into her struggles with anxiety. Preceding SMILE and SISTERS, Telgemeier begins her story with 9-year-old Raina suffering a stomach bug and throwing up, along with most of her family. This is the start of a growing anxiety that affects every aspect of Raina's life, from sleep to eating to school. A nervous and anxious kid to begin with, Raina develops an intense fear of throwing up again that begins to affect every aspect of her life. Describing the specific and individual food preferences of her mother, father, little sister and baby brother, her tastes narrow and she begins to fear sharing food with friends at school. Telgemeier's panels showing Raina's fear and anxiety are powerful, whether they are surreal, like the four page spread showing a bout with nausea after Raina's fears first set in, or realistic, like when a presentation in front of the class causes nerves so intense she flees to the bathroom.
After several doctor's visits and a clean bill of health, continued stomach pain, sick days, and nail biting cause Raina's parents take her to a therapist. Raina is hesitant at first. Without word bubbles, illustrations showing her talking with her therapist, her fears, worries, questioning expressed visually. Over time, Raina comes to learn how to face her anxieties when they arise with breathing techniques learned from her therapist. As this is unfolding, Raina is facing challenges at school with friends. Taunting from a mean girl makes her gut trouble worse, as does the dawning knowledge that girls in her class are getting their first periods. Then her security, her best friend Jane, tells Raina that she is moving. Through this, readers see Raina's parents working to meet her needs, partitioning off their own bedroom in the family's small apartment so Raina can have her own space. There, headphones on, Walkman at her side, Raina creates comics about her life. As GUTS comes to a close, readers see Raina practicing her breathing techniques and experiencing relief - and finding the courage to stand up in front of the class and teach her peers how to use these techniques. Raina even mends fences with the mean girl, finding a way to use her creative talents to mend fences.
In an author's note at the end of the book, Telgemeier tells readers that she has "dealt with stomach aches and anxiety for most" of her life, her panic attacks coming out of nowhere when she was nine. She became "obsessed with every little funny feeling" in her stomach and worried about eating the wrong foods that might make her throw up, sharing the clinical word "emetophobia," or fear of vomit, which apparently is quite common. Then, with the same brave honesty on exhibit in SMILE, Telgemeier let's readers know how she is doing now, as an adult, wanting readers to know that this is, "my personal story." She shares the different therapies, trainings, medication and meditation apps she has tried along with the wide range of testing she has undergone to find a physical source. Hoping that readers might recognize their own struggles in hers, wherever their anxiety is rooted, she encourages readers to talk to an adult they trust, encouraging them to talk about how they feel, ending with these words:
It takes guts to admit how you feel on the inside, but chances are, others will be able to relate. You'll never know unless you try!