I’ve been reading some great graphic novels lately, and here are two brief reviews.
Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim: After a run-in with a obdurate pig pinata on her eighteenth birthday, Grace Kwon is confronted by three avatars of herself as a kindergartener, a thirty-something adult, and a seventy-year-old woman respectively. Chaos ensues as Grace sneaks her other selves into her home while keeping her parents in the dark. The rambunctious selves refuse to stay quietly hidden in Grace’s closet, but visit her at school, taking it upon themselves to interfere with Grace’s life. Despite what it seems, they haven’t visited just to drive Grace insane; rather, Grace comes to understand that the three selves represent watershed moments in her emotional life, offering her the chance to better understand issues that might keep her from realizing the best version of her future.
This story would make such a great movie or play–it’s sort of like The Kid meets Freaky Friday meets Groundhog Day, but Korean-American, and without a hokey Disney ending. And if parts of the story are a bit over the top, and if some of the dialogue is obviously written for laughs, well, it adds to the cinematic feel (the book is divided into Acts rather than Chapters). The only real issue I had with the book was Lily. As a plot point, Lily is just not strong enough– she comes in too late and leaves too early, and I’m surprised Kim put her in the title given her skimpy presence. But look past that glitch, and what you have is the rarest of reads–a light yet satisfying story. And a thousand bonus points to Kim for gracefully incorporating Korean culture sans stereotypes or explaining notes.
Here’s a better picture of the four Graces (image from Kim’s website). I think my favourite was the cranky halmoni (grandmother).
Relish by Lucy Knisley: Relish is a graphic memoir of Knisley’s life so far (she’s in her late twenties) viewed primarily through the lens of food. Knisley, who seemingly leads an idyllic life steeped in the arts, grew up in a family of foodies, and for her, food is variously an emblem, a metaphor and a vehicle to gain understanding. Above all, it’s an immensely pleasurable end in itself. If you belong to the food-is-fuel camp, you should probably skip this review. If, on the other hand, if you enjoy mindfully preparing food and sharing it with your loved ones, if you’ve long identified your own particular tea-soaked madeline episode, if you take special pleasure in eating as an “an act of focussed giving and sharing”, you’ll love this book. Oh, and the illustrations are very Hergé-esque — clean and bold and filled with fascinating detail. I especially love the presentation of the recipes–look at this one for Huevos Rancheros.
(Click the image to embiggen)
Of course, our culinary choices intimately mirror our politics (and are often political statements in themselves) but Knisley resolutely avoids taking a stand on any contentious food-related issues, focussing solely on her personal journey. In order to achieve the latter aim, she sometimes ducks/over-simplifies issues (“Say what you will…we wouldn’t be eating [junk food] if it didn’t taste good.” Is that really an answer?) But overall, this is a lovely book begging to be gifted, ideally to a novice or youthful chef starting a long-term affair with food. Knisley writes with infectious enthusiasm–she’s never pretentious and never tries to be profound, and consequently, Relish is hugely readable. You come away from this book yearning for a simple life with good food and great friends–some of whom just happen to be chefs. What’s not to relish?
(I heard about this book on Nupur’s delish food blog, One Hot Stove.)