by Maia Kobabe. Oni Press, 2019. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9781549304002 (paperback), $17.99.

Reviewed June 2020
Jennifer Martinez Wormser, Library Director and Sally Preston Swan Librarian, Scripps College, jmwormse@scrippscollege.edu

gender queer coverMaia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir is a personal, coming-of-age work depicting the protagonist’s years long questioning with respect to gender identity and sexuality. Told as a first-person narrative interspersed with dialogue in a chronologically non-linear fashion, Kobabe’s book begins with eir’s departure for San Francisco to obtain an MFA in comics but moves back and forth in time, weaving together anecdotes from early elementary school and pubescent awkwardness to later adult exploration and self-discovery in a softly illustrated tapestry that is gentle, emotional, and, ultimately, self-affirming.

This book offers explanations of the varying self-identifying terms used in the genderqueer community; most prominent is the protagonist’s search for eir own definition of identity. Kobabe speaks particularly to those who question or wish to learn more about the spectrum of gender identities that exist outside the male and female gender binary. Throughout the volume, Kobabe’s search for understanding leads to different sources like books (the author cleverly embeds a reading list into the text), conversations with friends and family members, and sometimes awkward interactions with physicians, prospective romantic liaisons, and fellow artists. At one point, the author summarizes this dichotomy, “I began to think of gender less as a scale and more as a landscape…Some people are happy to live in the place they were born, while others must make a journey to reach the climate in which they can flourish and grow.”

Varying page layouts demonstrate the story arc and emphasize poignant moments in the protagonist’s life; eir’s crushing first experience at the gynecologist’s office, captured in two heart-wrenching full-page images, is a design masterpiece of image and text. Kobabe’s subtle, yet effective use of color separates anecdotes and delineates time throughout the work, and eir illustrations depicting facial expressions create a consistent visual narrative rich with emotion. This book will appeal to audiences in grades nine and above wishing to learn more about genderqueer identity issues, whether for themselves or as allies for others; thus, it is a recommended purchase for public, high school and academic libraries with a focus on collecting graphic novels and/or gender studies.