[Book Review] Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

The day they got together was the best one of Freddy’s life, but nothing’s made sense since. Laura Dean is popular, funny, and SO CUTE . . . but she can be really thoughtless, even mean. Their on-again, off-again relationship has Freddy’s head spinning — and Freddy’s friends can’t understand why she keeps going back.

*** Note: this review contains spoilers, and the below discussion deals with psychologically abusive relationships and teen pregnancy. ***

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is a graphic novel about a young woman named Freddy and her relationship with Laura Dean, who keeps breaking up with her then acting as if they’re back together again. The illustrations are beautiful, and I love the hint of pink on each page that serve as the only additional color aside from the black and white. Pink is a rather feminine color, yet I like to think the pink tint represents the borderline love that Freddy feels; it isn’t full-tilt bright red love. It’s dampened, faded, a little worn. It’s a kind of love you’ve carried for a while, even as it fades.

There was a lot to love about this book: the LGBTQIA representation throughout, Freddy recognizing that they’ve come a long way for queer rights while also stating that they have further to go, the struggles of teen pregnancy, living through high school. But, there was also quite a bit to hate about the message of the book as well. Freddy’s relationship with Laura Dean is definitely toxic, and although you can tell as a reader that Freddy is better off without Laura Dean, their relationship is never really labeled and explained. By that I mean, Laura Dean is a very emotionally manipulative person who continuously gaslights and psychologically tortures Freddy, yet Freddy assumes their struggles are the normal struggles of high school romance, which isn’t a message that should be sent out to young readers. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship, please DO NOT assume that it’s normal, or, even worse, that it’s something you deserve. The authors definitely could have tried harder to explain what was happening between Freddy and Laura Dean, even if only through an infographic at the end of the graphic novel explaining typical gaslighting behavior or psychological abuse.

There are other sub plots in the novel that are brushed over as well, such as Doodle’s pregnancy and Eric’s trouble coming out to his family about his relationship with Buddy, which only occurs in one scene at the school lunchroom table. It’s great to see representation, and I’m hyped there are more and more graphic novels out there like this, but the story seemed rushed, and many of the characters’ very real problems were given surface-level treatment, when I wish the authors had taken the time to explain and educate readers more on safe sex practices and counseling resources. Freddy writes to a news column and seeks out a fortune teller as well, but there’s never any mention of talking to your parents about what you’re going through or seeking out the help of a school counselor.

It’s all of these little missed opportunities that brought down my rating for the book, but as I said, the illustrations are gorgeous, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t mad at the book, just a little disappointed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

PUBLICATION DEETS: First Second, May 7, 2019, 289 pages


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