Despite the prologue, this graphic novel (Messy Roots by Laura Gao) isn’t about the pandemic. The beautiful color pages of the first chapter describe what this book is really about: freedom and roots. Two concepts that can seem like opposites but that blend together in a beautiful combination in this book.
Opening her story with her childhood in Wuhan, Gao makes it easy to see how different her adolescence in Texas is from her early years. As a child transplanted to the US at a young age, Gao quickly learns the importance of fitting in. She changes her Chinese name for the American “Laura” and whole-heartedly proceeds to make the rest of her personality fit in with this new persona. After witnessing how brilliant and self-assured Gao is as a child, it’s painful to read the middle chapters of this novel where Gao walks a careful balancing act between what American teenage society says she should want and what her immigrant parents want from her.
It’s no wonder when Gao flees to the opposite coast for college and proceeds to indulge in all the tiny acts of freedom that she never could when she lived at home. The novel takes on a brighter tone as Gao learns to distinguish between what she thought she was and what she actually is and learns truths about herself that she doesn’t want to bury anymore. As Gao learns to accept herself and her heritage, COVID-19 creates a dangerous atmosphere for Asian-Americans and Gao is forced to reassess all that she’s learned.
This graphic novel touches on themes of identity, assimilation, and internal and external prejudices. The art conveys moments of humor just as well as it conveys moments of darkness. Important characters are complex and can be both heroes and villains at different times. This fits the complexity of the story which illustrates that there is no such thing as black and white when it comes to people who are influenced by so many different factors in their lives.
There are many instances described in this book that weigh heavily on the heart, but despite that the ultimate feeling this novel leaves is one of hope for a positive future.
- Posted by Liliana