Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Editors: Calista Brill and Whit Taylor
Publisher: First Second (imprint of Macmillan)
WHAT IS IT?
A Young Adult contemporary graphic novel revolving around a toxic lesbian relationship.
Take your favorite teen romcom and give it a dark spin that highlights toxicity and makes it a central theme.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
On the outside, Laura Dean is charismatic, popular, and the life of the party, yet everyone but Freddy Riley sees how toxic their relationship together is.
No one notices Laura Dean’s narcissistic behavior more than Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, who is increasingly frustrated by Laura Dean’s toxic on-again-off-again approach to her relationship with Freddy. Freddy’s mental health spirals over Laura Dean’s behavior and strains her friendship with Doodle even worse after Freddy is emotionally unavailable to help Doodle when Doodle needs Freddy more than ever.
No matter how frustrating their relationship is, Freddy can’t seem to escape Laura Dean’s orbit. Laura Dean is everything Freddy has ever wanted in a girlfriend. There’s only one problem: Laura Dean keeps breaking up with her.
Tamaki’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me gives a breath of fresh air to the YA Contemporary genre. Tamaki doesn’t shy away from the less light-hearted aspects of first love, the messier side of breakups, and the gray areas of romance in toxic relationships.
Valero-O’Connell’s art style in Laura Dean utilizes clean line art and a limited monochrome pastel color palette. The use of the limited color palette highlights different moods and focal points from panel to panel and allows the overall graphic novel to feel like a YA despite the heavier themes.
Tamaki doesn’t rely on sexuality or homophobia to drive conflict, only the toxic relationship. Freddy is out to her friends and family and surrounded by a support system.
Friendships are just as important as romantic relationships. Freddy’s toxic relationship not only affects her own mental health but affects her friendships negatively as well. When Freddy is wrapped up in Laura Dean, she becomes an inattentive friend without realizing it.
The cast is entirely queer and/or BIPOC with a female lesbian Asian-American lead character (and includes a bisexual love interest, non-binary side character, black side characters, WLW and side MLM to name a few).
Tamaki doesn’t try to make Laura Dean likable to the readers. Laura Dean appears to be fun and charming and popular only in Freddy’s eyes.
Freddy and Doodle make Frankenstein-like creations out of mix-and-match stuffed animal parts. The stuffed animal creations sometimes break the 4th wall and offer pointed one-liners that the readers (but not the characters) can see.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Content Warning: Toxic relationship (including gaslighting, cheating, and manipulation), homophobia & bullying, unwanted pregnancy & abortion, underage drinking
The first 75% is moderately-paced with a repetitive spiral plot, which makes it feel slow at times. Contrastively, the ending introduces a sudden but major subplot with Doodle and feels rushed. Because it feels rushed, the HEA ("happily ever after") is more like a bittersweet ending than a happy and resolved one.
Side characters are queer and diverse (which is great!) but their subplots don’t offer much to the overall plot.
Freddy receives relationship advice from outside sources (the Anna Vice column and the Seek-Her medium). Freddy having more meaningful conversations with Doodle and her friends instead of a random medium could have given the side characters a more impactful role.
The credits don’t make clear if there is a separate letterer.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
In a genre that is more known for the fluffier and light-hearted side of teen romance, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up With Me tackles the darker and messier aspects of a queer teen romance without relying on homophobia or a coming-out story to drive conflict. Tamaki’s story showcases that the emotions and conflicts teenagers experience can be dark and heavy, which many adults tend to dismiss.
Readers, especially young queer readers, deserve not only to see themselves represented in media but also deserve to see that love is not always black and white. Knowing the signs of a toxic relationship can help save lives, and every young adult or anyone who has been stuck in a toxic relationship can relate to Tamaki’s graphic novel.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
The Girl From The Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir
If you like the art:
Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy by Chynna Clugston Flores
Bloom by Kevin Panetta
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Mariko Tamaki (@marikotamaki) - Writer
Tamaki is a twice-nominated Printz award finalist from Toronto, Canada of Japanese and Jewish descent. Her work spans many genres including prose fiction and non-fiction, graphic novels, and comics.
In addition to her own graphic novel work, Tamaki has worked on comics for both Marvel (She Hulk) and DC ( I am not Starfire)
Tamaki is a great needlework artist and posts her creations of needlepoint moths on her social media handles.
Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (@hirosemaryhello) - Illustrator
Valero-O’Connell is an award winning American illustrator from Minneapolis, MN.
In addition to working on collaborative products with Mariko Tamaki, Valero-O’Connell has also worked on comic projects for Steven Universe and the Lumberjanes/ Gotham Academy crossover series.
Fans of her artwork can join her Patreon for exclusive content, early access to her artwork, and more!
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