Saving Montgomery Sole, Mariko Tamaki

Y’all, I love Mariko Tamaki. If I were in charge of the universe, I’d request that Mariko Tamaki subsequently do like romance authors and write one book for each of the notable minor characters in Saving Montgomery Sole.1 Saving Montgomery Sole is about a girl with two moms who struggles to fit in to her glossy, carb-hating California high school; and then a Jerry Falwell-type preacher comes to town, and Montgomery is certain that her family will be a target for his hostility.

Saving Montgomery Sole

Mariko Tamaki hated high school and has said in interviews that she always struggled to fit in. In this book as in Skim and even This One Summer, and she absolutely captures the helplessness and frustration and sometimes-misery of high school. Montgomery and her friends insist on being themselves at a school where their selves are not entirely accepted, but Montgomery is the one who struggles with it. When other kids judge and tease her, she’s a simmering pot of rage, where her friends Thomas and Naoki have–to her–an astonishing capacity for letting high school mockery roll off their backs. And I love that although Montgomery has legitimate gripes with her school and her town, Tamaki’s not afraid to show Montgomery being, at times, a close-minded jerk herself.

If I have a complaint — get ready for an Angry Feminism Minute — it’s that all the skinny blondes in this book, and there are a lot of them, in a plethora of different settings, are one-dimensional carbs-obsessed bitches. Since a major theme of the book is that Montgomery and her friends are mocked for their perceived deviance from an acceptable norm, it’s disappointing to see the book itself condemning a particular gender performance in others. None of the skinny blonde bitches is granted any interiority, and while Montgomery ends up confronting some of her wrong assumptions about what people’s lives are like, the skinny blonde health nuts are not included in that revision of expectations.

As a culture, I’d like to think we’re moving away from uncritically reproducing the I’m not like other girls narrative — at least, I hope so. Equating a femme-y gender performance with shallowness and assholery just substitutes one set of restrictive gender norms for another set, and that’s not what we’re about as feminists, right, team?

  1. Yo I love that about romance novels. If you love a secondary character in a romance novel, like ever, you can be almost certain that they’re going to have their own book.

Rounding up some more comics

It’s time again for a round-up of my comics reading! So many recommendations on this earth!

Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

Yeah, I can only assume that Emily Carroll knows me personally and designed Through the Woods to cater to my interests. It is a collection of some hella creepy stories about living near a forest. Girls go into the forest, and they come out different, or they don’t come out at all. This may be very shallow of me, but I love graphic novels where the lettering looks like proper handwriting. Though Saga has many charms, an early and prominent draw for me was the fact that Hazel’s narration is drawn in real handwriting. Similarly:

Love it. Next I would like Emily Carroll to write some retellings of underloved fairy tales. If she could start with my beloved favorite “The Six Swans,” that would be absolutely swell. Her color choices and creepy little writings are so good it’s hard for me to deal with them.

This One Summer, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

Remember when I said that the Tamakis’ book Skim captured perfectly what it was like to be a teenager? Well, their 2014 book This One Summer also captures perfectly what it is like to be a teenager, while depicting almost none of the same aspects of teenagerhood we saw in Skim. Here it’s two girls who have been coming to the same vacation area every summer for years. But this one is different, because Rose’s parents can’t stop fighting, and Rose finds herself angrier and angrier.

Everyone in the blogosphere who ever recommended This One Summer was right. I loved it. It’s a little more focused than Skim plotwise, and although there are elements of the Problem Novel to it, it saves itself with absolutely lovely visual storytelling and a wonderful depiction of the fifteen-year-old best friends, Rose and Windy. Highly, highly recommended.

(There’s a character called Jenny. Guess what happens to her, oh I will just give you a hint, the answer is nothing good. But at least she’s not a servant or a prostitute, I guess.)

Sweet Tooth, Jeff Lemire

The news that Jeff Lemire will be taking over writing Hawkeye when Matt Fraction (sniffle, sob) finishes gave me the push I needed to finally read something by Lemire. The library had the full run of Sweet Tooth when I visited, so it was Sweet Tooth by default. I had the notion that it was a story about a person who could sense things about objects by ingesting them — and I am still pretty sure there exists a comic book with that premise — but actually it’s a dystopian story about a half-deer-half-human kid trying to find safety in a dangerous world. So…pretty different from what I was imagining.

If I step back to evaluate Sweet Tooth, I have some problems with it. I’d have liked to see more depth and complexity to these characters: Sweet Tooth is your standard-issue hero kid, and Mr. Jepperd is your standard-issue tough guy tormented by his wife’s death, and a lot of the secondary characters are fairly bland as well. And there’s more than a whiff of fridging around the wife’s death in terms of the motivation it provides Mr. Jepperd, and I’m as far over that as it is possible for a woman to be, and Jeff Lemire is a teeny weeny bit on notice as regards tropes about women.

BUT: I couldn’t put this series down. I limited myself to one trade paperback a day and tore through the whole thing in a week. I’ll forgive a lot in a good yarn, and Sweet Tooth definitely is that.

What comics have y’all been reading?

Review: Skim, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

“Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been,” says Kimberly Keiko Cameron at one point in the comic Skim. And the book certainly reminds you of all the things about being sixteen that were garbage — if not Kim’s particular problems, then certainly the general experience of being sixteen. Called “Skim” as an unkind joke — she isn’t slender, white, and blonde like the popular girls — Kim is an outsider at her private high school. She’s not an outsider in a Carrie way, but more in the sense that high school makes so many people outsiders: that the people at your high school just aren’t your community. Kim is looking for her community.

The ex-boyfriend of a classmate, Katie Matthews, kills himself. Not long after, Katie herself falls off a roof (on accident?), breaking both her arms. The school goes into mourning overdrive, requiring counseling for all students, releasing white balloons in honor of the dead, discussing what makes them all sad and happy. Skim is disgusted with the show of mourning for someone that most of them never knew, and the false enthusiasm with which many of her classmates embrace the idea of being Suicide Preventers to their peers.

The painful thing about Skim is that Kim truly just needs to find her people. Like high-schoolers everywhere, she’s trying on identities: perhaps she’s a Wiccan, with a bedroom altar where she burns sage to calm herself down; perhaps she’s an arty cool girl lesbian like the teacher she develops a crush on. But none of these identities settles into her, because she cannot find her people.

Ugh, y’all. Not knowing who your people are is just the absolute worst. I am feeling glum now because I’m remembering past versions of myself when I was struggling to find my people (college more than high school) and how miserable that was. I’m glad I’m an adult. Props to the Tamaki cousins for portraying so vividly how much it sucks not to be an adult.

What period of your life was the worst? I was happy as a clam in middle and high school, and then much of my college career was terrible. You?