“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.
I’ll admit this right now: Lucy Knisley is one of my go-to graphic novel writers. I have yet to be disappointed by her delightful drawings and keen insights into the various stages of life that she writes about in each of her graphic novels. I have enjoyed following Lucy as she documents her journey through traveling adventures, food, family, and planning a wedding. When she posted on her Instagram that she was writing and drawing a new book, I was excited and made a note to check it out when it was published. Well…. I found it!
Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos is Lucy’s latest graphic novel. This graphic memoir details Lucy’s desire to become a mother and her struggle to do so. Lucy was told throughout her entire life that anything is possible as long as you work hard enough and want it enough. What she found is that this isn’t true when you’re trying to get pregnant.
Lucy details, for all the world to see, the struggles that she and her partner went through in order to have a baby. She documents her fertility problems, miscarriages, and her eventual pregnancy that was chockful of health issues. This book ends with the birth of her son, Pal, but the information presented in it spans decades (even centuries).
Lucy talks about her own interest in birth starting when she was a young child and then moves through a very intense period where she was trying to find a birth control option that worked for her. When she and her partner decided to try but not try for a baby, Lucy talks about how she began the transition into potential motherhood. In addition to talking about her personal journey, Lucy also talks about the science and history of reproductive health. In her illustrations, Lucy details the positive and negative aspects(and people) surrounding medicine and midwifery. The history she added brought a necessary higher level to her own personal pregnancy story.
This book is a lovely addition to Lucy’s graphic novel repertoire. It clearly and beautifully illustrates Lucy’s journey to motherhood as well as the history of pregnancy. Check this book out whether you are on any stage of wanting kids, having kids, or avoiding kids at all cost. Let me know what you think!
If you haven’t read Lucy Knisley’s previous books, I highly recommend that you check them out: