Tamaki, Mariko. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. Illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Groundwood Books. 2019. $17.99. 304p. PB. 9781626722590.
Freddy Riley is miserable. Her hot, popular girlfriend keeps breaking up with her. Laura Dean is all Freddy can focus on, but her friends are getting sick of trying to support her through each dramatic twist of this dysfunctional relationship. It’s gotten to the point that Freddy has turned to writing to an advice columnist who for all she knows doesn’t even answer lesbian questions (though that would make her homophobic, obviously). As Freddy devotes more and more attention to Laura Dean’s whims, her friend Doodle slides further and further out of focus into a crisis of her own. If it has nothing to do with Laura Dean, will Freddy even notice?
This is a very welcome addition to YA. It’s rare to see toxic romantic relationships addressed in books for teens at all—particularly in a queer relationship. Because of traditional tropes about predatory or mentally unstable lesbian characters, there is a bit of a taboo in showing an openly lesbian character being a manipulative romantic partner. However, it’s Laura Dean’s behavior—not her identity—that is the dysfunction, and it’s important that queer teens are shown what an unhealthy queer relationship could look and feel like. This isn’t an after-school special style of story with the more readily identified relationship dysfunctions of physical or verbal abuse. This story is more concerned with the more common teenage courtship cocktail of desperation and dickhead behavior, where so many teens learn unhealthy romantic patterns that they bring into adulthood. It’s nice to see a book provide a roadmap for getting through this more modest type of toxic relationship.
Despite the potentially heavy topic, Laura Dean has a light feel to it. The banter between the characters, the embarrassing ways Freddy copes with rejection from Laura Dean, and the lovely cast of supporting characters keep the story grounded and relatable. The color scheme and beautifully stylized drawings make the pages pleasant to linger on. With a mixture of straightforward panels, full-page illustrations, and collages of quotidian snapshots, Valero-O’Connell conveys what the text does not: a particular feeling, the passage of time, shifting tensions between the characters. Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell are an excellent team, with the text communicating what Freddy sees and wishes to be true while the illustrations allow us to see the bigger picture.
I would highly recommend Laura Dean for teens and adults looking for realistic queer YA or New Adult lit, and it’s relatable enough to please teens of any identity who like graphic novels about high school life. A robust entry to the growing list of queer novels that have moved past coming out stories to show us other experiences.
Reviewed by Ashley Dunne