Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao

“Every time I struggled to fit into the world around me, I thought if I flew far away enough, like Chang’e, the perfect home would magically appear. But when your roots are tangled up across so many different places, that perfect world may not exist.”
― Laura Gao, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American

On my graphic memoir quest, I found Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao, the child of Chinese immigrants and an immigrant herself. Messy Roots is her debut graphic memoir. She adds a level of hilarity and insightfulness to her story. Laura was born in Wuhan, China, a place that becomes prominent in the narrative about the Covid-19 pandemic. This graphic memoir is the story of her Wuhan, the one beyond Covid-19, the one that she knows.

Laura grew up in Wuhan in a land surrouded by rice paddies. She and her troublesome cousins rode water buffalo while being watching by her grandparents and managed to get into so much mischief. Her parents left Wuhan for the United States shortly after Laura was born. They moved to attend graduate school, hoping to build a better life for their family. Laura moved to be with her parents when she was four years old. Being thrust into a new and confusing world, Laura was lost. Her teachers and classmates had trouble pronouncing her Chinese name, Yuyang, so despite her mom’s protestations, she changed her name to Laura after seeing then-First Lafe Laura Bush on the news.

Laura moved around to different school frequently growing up, adding to her intense desire to fit in. This desire impacts her decisions regarding hobbies, after-school activities, her college choice, her career, and her contact with her family. When she goes to college, Laura starts to figure out her own identity. After college, she discussses her first job, her relationship with Wuhan today, and how the Covid-19 pandemic affected her as someone from Wuhan, China.

This graphic novel is a necessary read. She has a grounded and insightful take into Wuhan, Covid-19, and the perspective of someone who grew up in China, but is currently living in the United States. Laura also talks about her journey to figuring out her sexual identity, eventually coming out as queer. This coming-of-age story covers an incredible amount of topics. Seeing how all aspects of her life come together to inform her decisions was a delight, given how vulnerable Laura is in her storytelling.

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