Review by Juhyun Tony Bae
First Second, Macmillan, 7 May 2019
304 pages, paperback, $17.99 CAD 978-1-62672-259-0
Ages 14+, Grades 9-12
Young Adult, Graphic Novel, Romance, LGBTQ+
Of course, I know there are LGBTQIA activists out there who fought for centuries for me to have the right to fuck up like this. I’m aware that I should be grateful that I have the ability to get broken up with and publicly humiliated the same as my hetero friends. I am progress. Embarrassing progress.
When I first read the title, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, and saw its cover art—the romantic pose, pink tones, and the cute stuffed animals along the bottom—I expected a gushy romance comic. Oh boy, was I wrong. This graphic novel somehow managed to surpass that incredible cover with a story that is honest, shocking and undoubtedly modern.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me stars Freddy Riley, a half Asian, half Caucasian high-school girl living in Berkeley, California. As the title implies, her girlfriend (or, I suppose, her ex half of the time), Laura Dean, keeps breaking up with her. Freddy is stuck in this agonizing loop of accepting Laura back, just for her to cheat or leave again. While Freddy is surrounded by a supportive group of diverse friends, she feels sorry for relying on them so often for emotional support and decides to contact a popular relationship blogger for advice. The graphic novel is cleverly narrated through boxes designed to look like browser windows that show us snippets of Freddy’s messages.
Under the surface, this story is about guilt. Freddy feels guilty about asking her friends for help, and for accepting Laura back. She doesn’t even deserve to be with Laura—who is way more popular than her with a popular clique to match—and Freddy should be grateful to even be with her. Maybe she’s the small minded one for not being able to accept Laura’s unfaithfulness as it’s her given right to explore her sexuality, that perhaps Laura is polyamorous. She doesn’t even have the privilege to be sad because she hadn’t fought alongside the activists for the very freedom that she gets to enjoy. Freddy is drowning in so much guilt that she loses grasp of what she needs to ignore and what she needs to truly care about.
Freddy represents a modern group of teens rarely shown in media—a growing population of LGBTQ+ teens that grew up with little fear of persecution (thank goodness). Without completely ignoring the politics that still surrounds it, for teens like Freddy, the story isn’t about being gay, but simply dealing with teenage romance.
I mention this because I feel that some readers might avoid this book because of the LGBTQ+ tag, thinking that this story wasn’t written for them. I believe this novel has a message about love and friendship that needs to be seen by every teen, regardless of their sexuality. I say this, however, with the warning that the story does explore various toxic relationships with extremely sensitive material that may be difficult for some of our vulnerable readers.
This graphic novel is utterly realistic with deep side characters that play an essential role in guiding Freddy through her journey. The plot is unpredictable without utilizing any sort of twists, with natural and understandable events that will have you laughing and crying. This is all enhanced by the stylistic art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell that resonates the chaotic nature of parties, the warm sunrise of falling in love, and the devastating loneliness that teenage life can bring.
If you are looking for a grounded graphic novel about navigating the emotional web of modern teenage romance, I can’t recommend you anything better than Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me hits the shelves on May 7, 2019.
Juhyun Tony Bae is a Korean-Canadian writer currently studying at UBC. He’s been working on a dystopian YA novel that he says will be completed between the next one to fifty years. His work has been published in Grain, FreeFall, and Wax Poetry and Art. You can find him at tonybae.com