High school senior, Laura Dean, is dumping Freddie for the third time. And she’s doing it by text. I bet that’s pretty usual these days. Seems pretty rough. Freddie, the narrator says, “being dumped feels like food poisoning.” The experience is prolonged. And toxic.
“Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” (First Second 2019) by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is such a pretty graphic novel. The illustrations are made exclusively in black and white. And pink. It’s stunning—the emotions invoked by those illustrations.
The plot is simple. High school student, Freddie Riley, is in love with the most popular girl in school, Laura Dean. Laura drops Freddie, picks the relationship back up, drops her over and over. Freddie can’t seem to help herself. She keeps taking Laura back.
What’s different about this story is, the players are two girls. It’s not difficult for them—that part. They live in Berkeley, California, the capitol of radical acceptance. As you go through the book, you figure out gradually that Laura, the lover, is a girl. Hey, Laura looks kind of boyish. And cute. And maybe one of the points is: girls do exactly what adolescent boys do. They use girls. Yeah, girls use boys too. And other girls. But I think most teens—those in smaller towns and rural areas—would be amazed by the degree of acceptance of lesbian relationships.
Freddie’s best friend, Doodle, supports her over and over. But Freddie mistreats Doodle—choosing her unscrupulous girlfriend Laura instead of her constant friend Doodle. Is that an indication of low self-esteem? Who hasn’t been on the other side of this in middle or high school? Freddie feels bad about her behavior and eventually makes it right, realizing that Doodle offers true friendship. So healthy friendships ultimately prevail over the unhealthy ones.
By the way, Doodle, who is straight, is going through some very rough stuff, but Freddie, wrapped up in her own misery, is oblivious. I’d like to see Doodle’s story told.
Here’s something useful about breakups as told by the narrator. “The truth is, breakups are usually messy, the way people are messy, the way life is often messy. I’s okay for a breakup to feel like a disaster. It doesn’t feel okay, but I assure you it is okay. It’s also true that you can breakup with someone you still love. Because those two things are not distinct territories: love and not loving anymore.”
This is an easy and fun book to read and could help teens who are experiencing toxic relationships. Maybe it could push them to see the light. Do you settle for the love you can get? Or do you find the love that you deserve? These are good questions for adults as well.
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others. She teaches community classes at Parkland. talesforallages.com