Hummingbird Heart by Travis Dandro

Trigger warning: suicide, drug addiction, cancer, and death

Travis Dandro illustrates his teenage confusion during family tragedy in his graphic memoir, Hummingbird Heart. This graphic memoir was published in 2022 by Drawn and Quarterly. His first graphic novel,  King of King Court, was published in 2019 and won the Lynd Ward Prize for graphic novel of the year.

Hummingbird Heart chronicles Dandro’s life from right before he learned about his grandmother’s illness to when he moved away for college. This was a messy time in Dandro’s life. His drug-addicted father had just passed away by suicide. Still processing his death, Dandro is shocked to learn that his grandmother has cancer. While in high school, he moves in with his grandmother to be her caretaker. These changes takes place all while Dandro is a teenager. This doesn’t stop him from doing typical teenager things though: shoplifting, pranking, dating, and going on drives with his friends through town. After all, he’s a teenage boy trying to figure out his place.

One Halloween night, Dandro and two of his friends hatch a prank on one of their drives that backfires badly. Two of the boys bear the brunt of the punishment, while the other is left dealing with the fallout. This prank forces Dandro to realize that he needs to grow up. He can’t keep acting like a child. He needs to take responsibility and figure out his future. Dandro and his friends are sure to grow apart the older they get, especially when they move away. Throughout this memoir, Dandro examines the difficulties that teenagers go through as they fight for independence. His writing and drawings highlight the resiliency and his ability to find a way through all the traumas that were happening in his family.

This graphic memoir tugged at my heart through its incredibly detailed illustrations. His drawings switch from intricate drawings of random objects or animals to intensely emotional confrontations between characters. Pages of his work are densely drawn only to be abruptly interrupted by pages of minimal drawing. It keeps readers on the edge of their seats, similar to how Dandro felt during that difficult time in his life.

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