The bright coral pink monster hovering over the main character on the cover of Marika McCoola and Aatmaja Pandya’s young adult graphic novel Slip caught my attention several months ago. Still, I didn’t sit down to read it until yesterday. I’m on the 2022 CYBILS Awards graphic novel panel this fall, and Slip’s nomination was a great nudge to finally check it out of the library and commit. I fell in love with the story, and I think you will too – it has emotional depth and the art is just as lovely and inventive as the cover promises.


slip by marika mccoola and aatmaja pandya book cover
Right before Jade is about to leave for a summer art intensive, her best friend, Phoebe, attempts suicide. How is Jade supposed to focus on herself right now?

But at the Art Farm, Jade has artistic opportunities she’s been waiting for her whole life. And as she gets to know her classmates, she begins to fall for whimsical, upbeat, comfortable-in-her-own-skin Mary. Jade pours herself into making ceramic monsters that vent her stress and insecurities, but when she puts her creatures in the kiln, something unreal happens: they come to life. And they’re taking a stand: if Jade won’t confront her problems, her problems are going to confront her, including the scariest of them all—if Jade grows, prospers, and even falls in love this summer, is she leaving Phoebe behind?


Slip is Jade’s story (Jade is a ceramicist and artist who is struggling to find meaning in her work and herself), but it’s also Phoebe’s story. Phoebe is Jade’s best friend, and she attempted suicide right before Jade went off to art camp. At art camp, Jade can’t escape thoughts of Phoebe, wondering WHY and wishing she could be with Phoebe, even as camp challenges her to be at her best artistically, and to stretch her wings in new and interesting ways. When Jade’s pottery starts taking on a life of its own (and I mean that literally & magically), she must finally confront some thoughts and feelings that have been running amok inside her.


Jade’s story in Slip covers one month – an important moment in time, and one of intense learning – but still only a month. The reader doesn’t get too much back story, nor too much of a sense of what will happen after art camp ends, but that’s okay. In that short time, we see Jade not only create and think about art, but process grief and relationship loss/change, redefine her identity, discover new love, and play with ideas and sources of inspiration. It’s a lot to pack into one story, but McCoola and Pandya work some magical alchemy to make it happen – the result is an ode to art as therapy and art as a reflection of reality. My favorite scenes were the ones of Jade working alongside fellow creatives, those talented and motivated campers and mentors: folks with big goals. Their questions and actions spurred her on to greater heights and insights.


Throughout most of the book, Jade’s friends and mentors are asking her: what is the concept behind your work? What is the thing that holds you (or your art!) together? While Jade wrestles with these questions, the book does an excellent job of showing what a mess our internal selves can be when we experience trauma or are trying to come to grips with hard changes. I can’t get over how accurate some of the illustrations felt: a jumble of words competing inside Jade’s head but never making it outside her mouth, memories revisited over and over, a friend’s words haunting you in very specific ways. Slip is full of gentle ways of thinking about, talking about, and feeling hard things – I don’t know when I have ever felt so cared for by a story at the end – and I love that.


It’s not perfect (for instance, I’d like more of an explanation of the pottery that comes to life, and what that means about Jade’s own mental state), but overall Slip is a lovely mediation on art-making, processing trauma, coming of age and creating an identity all on your own for the first time.


Let’s talk about the art! The most noticeable thing is that Slip is illustrated in a limited color palette – most pages are in a dark blue gray with gradients, and there are occasional splashes of that vibrant coral pink from the front cover. Pink seems to herald strong emotions, change, and magic, and the pops of pink startle the reader into a new frame of mind. The linework is well-defined, without being too delicate or precious – it works for the medium and the story. In a book with a limited color palette, the details matter a lot, and Pandya has those locked down. I got an excellent feel for the process of pottery throwing and firing – even in a limited time frame – through Pandya’s artistic renditions.


In all, Slip is a lovely thing: a graphic novel that tackles art and identity in complex and gentle ways.


Recommended for: fans of Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, and anyone interested in sensitive, quiet young adult fiction and expanding their graphic novel collections.

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