In Limbo by Deb JJ Lee

“I love you when you’re at your lowest just as much as at your best.” – In Limbo, Deb JJ Lee

TW for suicide and abuse.

Deb Lee’s powerful new memoir explores coming of age in New Jersey as a Korean-American teenager. Deb examines the Korean-American diaspora and mental illness as she mines her history for answers. Deb left Seoul to come to America with her family when she was only three years old.  Ever since she arrived in the United States, she has been excruciatingly aware of her otherness. Her teachers couldn’t, and still can’t very well, pronounce her Korean name. Her English wasn’t perfect, she spoke Korean, but after some time, she slowly lost her Korean and spoke more and more English. Adjusting to the United States was difficult as her face and her eyes pointed her out as different. She felt wrong.

When Deb started high school, her life became harder. She started to feel increasing pressure at home, while dealing with high school changes. Her classes were more difficult than she expected, plus her friendships changed and ended. Deb struggles with finding a safe place to be herself, but luckily she has orchestra (even though that doesn’t last forever either). Her home life becomes increasingly chaotic as fights with her mom become more frequent, violent, and emotionally abusive. Deb has no idea what to do, feeling like she is stuck in limbo with nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help. Her mental health crashes, which results in a suicide attempt. Her healing process after is slow and methodical, but she is resilient, courageous, and willing to start the process. Art, self-care, and therapy help her start to understand herself and her heritage.

The artwork in this graphic memoir is amazing. Deb has drawn pages of evocative, grayscale artwork that give you the feel of memory. Some of their drawings are sharp while others are hazy, fuzzing out and fading to black. If you’re a fan of Tillie Walden, you will enjoy this art style. Deb worked on this for years before she finally was at a place where it was ready for the world. Their desire to wait makes this memoir feel polished and rewarding. This is a realistic depiction of a teen working through mental health experiences. Add in that this is a memoir and this is sure to be helpful to others.

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