by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second, May 2019. 304 p. ill. ISBN 9781626722590 (paperback), $17.99.
Reviewed August 2020
Jasper Lastoria, North Vancouver City Library, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up with Me is author Mariko Tamaki’s strongest effort since her career-making and award-winning book, Skim, thus galvanizing her place as an exemplar storyteller of the queer teen experience. In a palette of black, grey, white, and dusty rose, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell illustrates a queer utopic vision of Berkley, California. Valero-O’Connell’s art is dynamic, utilizing unusual framing and wherever possible depicts a robust and diverse universe of background and secondary characters representing LGBTQ1IA+ people and queer people of colour; every single background character is fully realized in this immersive world.
Tamaki moves beyond simple representation, with a strong cast of complex characters, each with their own good qualities and foibles. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up with Me signals that we have entered an age when writers can have problematic LGBTQ2IA+ characters without implying they are wholly representative of their community. By combining the slice-of-life style popularized by the wave of alternative comic artists beginning in the 1990s, with evergreen themes of high school love and complicated friendships, a fresh perspective on an old problem is presented: bad partners. Laura Dean is a classic charismatic narcissist in new clothes, and rather than allowing the story to dwell in victimhood, the protagonist Freddy seeks to resolve what she intuits as an unhealthy relationship. The dynamic of their relationship becomes even clearer when contrasted with the healthy relationships she sees between her parents and among her queer high school friends.
Steeped in relevant references to current LGBTQ2IA+ cultural zeitgeists while nodding to history, the book is peppered with terms that have educational value for teen and young adult readers. Tamaki elegantly explains these terms in a sincere tone and weaves them into the story without coming across as artificial or clunky. While the book is about young queer love, it is also about modelling good friendships. As such, it is appropriate for mature teen and LGBTQ2IA+ people, particularly queer people of colour. A content warning:this book deals with themes around abortion, which might stir controversy with some audiences.