laura dean keeps breaking up with me

I’ve been hearing buzz about Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell's young adult graphic novel Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me for over a year now, and that gorgeous cover just snags your attention, doesn’t it? I meant to have this review up for Valentine’s Day, because I assumed it was a romance… But I think I’m happier with what it actually is – a beautifully-illustrated story about figuring out when love isn’t right for you, and learning how not to let that consume everything, and to be kind to others and/or love yourself in spite of that knowledge. It was also good for my soul to read a YA book about friends being solid and wonderful – those close-as-family relationships really matter to me (and to a lot of people!).

laura dean keeps breaking up with me by mariko tamaki and rosemary valero-o'connell book cover
Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley's dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There's just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.

Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy's best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it's really Laura Dean that's the problem. Maybe it's Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever.

Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.

Frederica Riley is stuck in a cycle of breaking up and making up with her sometimes-girlfriend, the super-cool Laura Dean. Freddy feels like she’s on top of the world when Laura Dean is with her, but Laura doesn’t seem able to stay with one person… and it’s breaking Freddy’s heart. Meanwhile, Freddy’s supportive friends wish she’d open her eyes and grow a spine (ouch!). But some lessons you have to learn yourself, and Freddy will have to find a way to break out of this toxic cycle before she irreparably breaks herself.

The story rings true AND it made me feel those crappy love-isn’t-working-out feelings at the same time. Tamaki’s storytelling is raw and real, and it explores some of those “people can be terrible to each other in relationships” moments with clarity that is sometimes uncomfortable. It’s not all painful moments, and Valero-O’Connell’s art lightens some of the bleak feels, but gosh the angst and indecision and hurt… they’re there, and it takes you right back to the immediacy and impact those emotions have on the teenage brain and psyche. Whew. What a book!

The thing is, Freddy isn’t in denial – she’s self-aware, and she observes the world around her. But as we all know, young love (any time of love, really!) can cloud every moment and influence all our relationships. And while Freddy sees that Laura Dean isn’t good for her, she’s also using all of the brain power she can spare to try to tell herself that it’s okay, that her friends and family are fine, and that the world isn’t going to fall apart any time soon – except none of that is guaranteed, right?! So yeah, I’d say this book captures teen angst and the millions of things that go on in your head at any given moment (we get a bit better at blocking some inputs/compartmentalizing as we age, right?).  I’m repeating myself at this point, but this book is just viscerally real, and it made me feel feels, and I’m a little mad about it but mostly in awe.

Okay, I’ve been going on too long, so here’s a short-ish list of other things I liked about this book! A) The set-up of the storytelling that goes between in-the-moment action and emails to a romance advice columnist. B) Different combinations of family and friends – in their dynamic and imperfect reality (there’s no one way to have a family or to “be”). C) Freddy’s queer friends/coworkers/cultural moments: just there, part of the scenery and the world. I love that kind of representation. There’s so much joy in normalizing Freddy’s kaleidoscopic life – it’s diverse, it’s modern, and there are so many bits I want to call attention to but I’m running out of space ahhhh I said “short-ish!” (also: yes, I am buying a copy of this book for my classroom).

And because it deserves its own goshdarn paragraph, Valero-O’Connell’s art. The art is just… AHHH gorgeous! The patterns, the backgrounds, the movement on each page. The cute three-color (black, white, light pink) palette and how that interplays with the angst and heavy subject matter. The exquisite details like characters’ accessories and school and home environments. Truly lovely.

In all, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is brilliantly told, and the emotional notes are sincere and tough and authentic. And the art slays. You should totally read it.

Recommended for: fans of contemporary young adult literature, anyone who enjoys fantastic storytelling and the graphic novel format, and those looking to update their libraries with quality LGBTQ+ rep.

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Right??? My GOD I loved this book, absolutely one of my favorites from my 2019 reading. I always think Mariko Tamaki does a great job of capturing what it's like to be a teenager -- she's never condescending but she's honest about what a wretched mess it is to be that age.

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