Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley’s dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There’s just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.
Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it’s really Laura Dean that’s the problem. Maybe it’s Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever. Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.
Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell bring to life a sweet and spirited tale of young love that asks us to consider what happens when we ditch the toxic relationships we crave to embrace the healthy ones we need.
CW: emotionally abusive relationship, relationship with a minor, teen pregnancy, abortion
Before I read this, I actually didn’t realize it was a graphic novel, or what it was really about. All I knew was that a few corners of Twitter were buzzing about it, and that I wanted to see why.
Now I’m buzzing about it, and I think with good reason.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me follows a teenage girl named Freddy who is trying to make sense of the way her girlfriend, Laura Dean, keeps (you guessed it) breaking up with her, and why they keep getting back together, and how to make everything right so there doesn’t have to be another break-up. It’s actually a very emotional story, and it struck a chord with me because of the way it portrayed toxic relationships. I haven’t personally been in a toxic romantic relationship, but I have been in a toxic friendship, and some of the patterns here are extremely familiar to me.
I care less about the patterns, though, than the way they’re approached and portrayed, and I think this story tackled the topic with brilliant, if somewhat brutal, grace. Laura Dean, from the outset, is clearly not a healthy choice in terms of relationships, while it’s easy to see that Freddy’s other friends, who actually try to support her, are absolutely worth the time and effort. And yet Freddy still orbits Laura Dean, because it’s hard not to. Her on and off again girlfriend is magnetic, and sometimes, she actually gives Freddy what she wants (though usually not what she really needs), and that keeps Freddy coming back time and again. It shows just how easy it can be to fall into the cycle of toxic relationships, and how hard it can be to dig yourself out, even if you’re offered a helping hand.
There’s also the matter of accountability, and I appreciated that the story didn’t try to totally absolve Freddy. Yes, Laura Dean is not a good girlfriend, but it also showed how Freddy had become a poor friend in her desperation to stay with Laura Dean, how this emotional issue between two girls actually had broader effects. This is not to say that Freddy deserved what she got from Laura Dean (not even a little! no one deserves to be treated that way), but that there are consequences to relationships like these, and that this consequences aren’t limited to the people immediately in the relationship.
Plus, it shows an effort to make up for letting friendships slide, and that more than anything had me eighteen kinds of emotional. No one in this comic is perfect, but it’s ultimately centered on characters who recognize their own flaws, and then make the choices and changes in an effort to improve. It’s progress over perfection, effort and intention over end result, and it had the excellent side effect of also making the side characters so much stronger. Freddy may be the star of the show, but her friends (like Doodle and Vi) have lives of their own, plus complex relationships with Freddy.
And to cap it all off, I loved the art style. It’s in black and white with pink accenting, and the lack of full color worked wonders when it came time to convey the gravity of the more serious scenes. Not to mention it’s just flat out visually appealing. Every panel is easy to read and follow, and it flows sooooooo smoothly. It’s just a visual delight in every way, and I loved it!
I really loved Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, and I’m sure if I read it again, I’d find even more reasons to love it. It’s so soft in some places, so heart-wrenching in others, and the way it handles unhealthy relationships feels so nuanced and real to me. Since I borrowed this book for my first read, I suspect I’ll have to buy my own copy soon. It’s well worth it in every way.
Have you read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me yet? What did you think of it? If you haven’t, are you a fan of graphic novels? Have a favorite? Let’s chat!