Valentine’s Day is approaching, and with that comes the onslaught of romance at every corner: pink and red hearts hanging up in stores, love songs playing on the radio, sweethearts buying bundles of roses for each other. This movie-style version of love can be nice, but what if you want something deeper, more nuanced? This selection of recommendations show love against the backdrop of hardship, love beyond just the romantic, and love for the self--a perfect Valentine’s Day trifecta.
Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illus. Savanna Ganucheau (First Second Books)
Bloom follows Ari, a teenager growing jaded with working for his family’s bakery. While interviewing replacements for the family business, he meets Hector, a blossoming baker, and affection begins to grow. Panetta and Ganucheau achieve a fantastic literary feat with this graphic novel. The characters are fully developed, well-rounded, and don’t claim to be perfect. The element of love is a core theme of this text: love of friends, family, lovers, passions of life. Panetta’s writing captures the precious longing of budding queer love and Ganucheau’s illustrations radiate with adolescent angst and romanticism. The characters are expressive, and the baking scenes and landscape shots are gorgeous and set a cozy tone. This novel moved in a way that was slow and stirring—a warm, comforting read to soften even the coldest of hearts.
Blankets by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf Productions)
Craig Thompson’s graphic memoir Blankets was a revolution when it debuted in 2003, earning several prolific comic awards, and it’s with good reason. This striking coming-of-age tale follows the author’s upbringing in the fundamentalist Christian faith, his struggle with religion, and the struggles that come with first love. Raina and Craig meet during a winter church camp and their relationship develops as they exchange letters, falling in love. When Craig leaves Wisconsin and visits Raina in Michigan, she has made a blanket, a quilted tapestry of their relationship, but still the hardships of their individual lives proves challenging for them. The art in Blankets is sharp, clean, and emotive, not shying from the darkness of the story. This memoir doesn’t glamorize the relationship, but instead showcases it for all its real imperfections.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second Books)
Jen Wang’s Victorian era graphic novel has a whole lot of heart, one that reminds us that loving ourselves is the most important thing. Prince Sebastian is to be arranged a marriage by his parents, but he would much rather promenade through Paris as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. This persona comes with the help of his friend Frances, a talented dressmaker who crafts all of Sebastian’s extravagant ensembles. Frances struggles with being kept a secret, unable to flaunt all her skills in fear of outing Sebastian as Lady Crystallia. Wang’s art style is warm and inviting, with lots of pinks and reds to demonstrate the soft aesthetic of the city of love. While marketed as a middle grade-younger YA title, The Prince and the Dressmaker has something for everyone, kids and adults alike. Plus, the fashion here is enough to make you swoon.
Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, illus. Jenn St-Onge and Joy San (Inclusive Press)
Bingo Love is sort of like an epic, mostly due to the fact that this love story spans over the course of over fifty years. Hazel and Mari meet at a church bingo event in 1963 and immediately become smitten, but unfortunately, the two are torn apart due to familial and societal pressure. Both women end up getting married and having families of their own, but it isn’t until they are reunited in a bingo hall in their mid-sixties that they realize their love is still alive. It’s a touching story, and Franklin does a remarkable job at showing the intricacies of the characters’ identities. Two Black, queer, elderly women allowing themselves to love each other is not something we encounter too frequently in comics, and this story shines a light in the most beautiful way. The art team of St-Onge and San craft gorgeous stills that compliment Franklin’s writing just right, and the result is a sweet (but not saccharine) tale of love and identity.
Looking for reviews on upcoming releases? Maybe commentary on a specific title? Just want to find something new to read? Stay tuned for biweekly themed posts, standalone reviews of new titles before they’re published, and more!