Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reading Roundup: Youthful Nostalgia in Graphic Memoirs

For some people, it's a song that can trigger a memory. For some, a taste or a smell. For Lucy Knisley, it's food (a taste and smell person by default). In her second graphic memoir, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, the artist connects with some of her most poignant memories as they revolve around food.

As the daughter of bonafide foodies, Knisley was taught to dine with passion from an early age. Her illustrations take us to her adolescent episodes of shucking oysters and slaughtering fowl to devouring candy in Mexico and enjoying illicit Big Macs in Rome, sharing stories of her life in relation to the foods she associates with them—her own personal form of nostalgia. But just because she was raised with a bit more of an advanced taste palate doesn't mean Lucy's a food snob. She dedicates one whole chapter to the glories of fast food and how sometimes it's just exactly what you need. A girl I can relate to!

I enjoyed Lucy's style of storytelling just as much as I did in French Milk. She is full of expression and humor, and this book, in particular, demonstrates an infectious enthusiasm that comes from the heart; these are people she loves and memories she treasures. She is excellent at pulling from many places—fact, experience, nostalgia—to tell a story. She even peppers the chapters with some of her most favorite recipes, illustrated, like the rest of her story, in bright, energetic colors—a wonderfully creative way to add an even higher level of personalization and a fun resource for readers to test in their own kitchens! Overall, Relish is a really great celebration of food and an enjoyable reflection on our personal connection with it.


Michel Rabagliati takes us on another trip down memory lane with Paul Has a Summer Job, his first graphic novel in a series featuring a Quebec teenager named Paul, loosely based on the author's own life (and originally published in French). It's 1979 and Paul is apprenticing in a print shop. After a stint of rebellion that included dropping out of school, this print shop is Paul's long-term plan for life, though it's uninspired work. Fate intervenes when a friend offers him a job as a counselor at a small summer camp for underprivileged kids. Paul quits the print shop, hops on a bus, and barely looks back.

The summer that follows is one of those life-changing experiences contingent on adolescence; you'll never be so impressionable, so wayward, so passionate, so free again. Entering the job with zero related experience, Paul finds his way as an authority figure and friend to his campers while finding a group of like-minded individuals that help shape the summer as one that would stick out in his mind forever. Along the way, he learns new ways to channel his creative energies and how to break out of the protective bubble he's created for himself—and it wouldn't be a coming-of-age story without that first-love romance component.

Rabagliati manages to tell, yes, a coming-of-age story without any sense of triteness or excessive sentimentality. It's sweet, in the way you would look back on your own stories of being seventeen and maybe chuckle and shake your head but ultimately relish in those memories and how they changed your perspective. The author is frank with Paul's (or his own?) flaws and doesn't censor his mistakes or naiveity in experiences, which lends a sense of honesty to his voice. The drawings are swift and crisp, and the figures full of expression. Rabagliati's voice in Paul Has a Summer Job is one of nostalgia but beyond that of simple episodes; he captures an entire sense of being, a sense of yourself, that is encapsulated in certain memories—one that may have disappeared without you ever realizing it. There are several other stories in the author's series on Paul, and I am anxious to get my hands on them.