I loved Messy Roots! This is a graphic memoir of a flawed, awkward narrator who is super-easy to relate to. It has both funny moments and serious moments, and it’s is engaging all the way through. Highly-recommended for high school and adult readers.
AUTHOR: Laura Gao
ILLUSTRATOR: Laura Gao
PUBLISHER: Balzer + Bray
PUBLICATION DATE: March 8, 2022
GENRE: graphic novel, memoir
SETTING: California, Texas, Pennsylvania (all USA) and Wuhan, China
GIVE IT TO: HS, adults
AWARDS AND KUDOS
- Horn Book starred
- Publishers Weekly starred
- SLJ starred
- Goodreads Choice Award Nominee (Graphic Novels & Comics), 2022
After spending her early years in Wuhan, China, riding water buffalos and devouring stinky tofu, Laura immigrates to Texas, where her hometown is as foreign as Mars–at least until 2020, when COVID-19 makes Wuhan a household name.
THE SHORT VERSION
Absolutely loved it! Highly recommended for high school libraries.
WHAT I LIKED
The Chinese words! I lived in Shanghai and Suzhou, China from 2014-2020. I learned a lot of Chinese words in that time, and I was thrilled to understand many of the Chinese words and phrases in Messy Roots. This book also made me miss Chinese food!
Messy Roots is honest. This is a graphic memoir, and the author does not hold back about her feelings throughout the books. It’s engaging, interesting, and never dull. The author comes out in the last chapters, and I love that she included her fear of telling her family and friends.
Even better, I love that all Yuyang’s family and friends were supportive and that many knew she was queer already. Yuyang is very nervous about coming out, but her family or friends are gloriously accepting. I really hope that’s how it went for the author in real life! Anyway, Gao’s coming out was handled tenderly, and I think queer teens thinking about coming out will find comfort in these scenes.
When I first finished the book, I was disappointed that the story ended in late-2019 and did not include anything about Covid-19. The shadow of the pandemic appears throughout in small mentions, but the pandemic does not begin during the story.
But when I thought about it, I liked that it ended before the pandemic. Readers already know that Wuhan was ground zero for Covid-19. This book is for high schoolers, and they will definitely remember the pandemic years and hearing about Wuhan on the news. Ending Yuyang’s story in 2019 leaves it on a happy note, even though readers will know what’s to come soon enough for Wuhan.
Love all the contemporary YA novels in the backgrounds! There are a few references to Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, as well as many others. Very cool to see those!
Illustrations are cute and use a lot of golds and reds. Could this be a nod to the Chinese flag? In China, we saw lots of red and gold decorations, clothing, signs, etc., so it would not surprise me if Gao selected her color palatte as an homage to her mother country.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
I really loved the entire book. No complaints from me!
Yuyang (Laura) and her immediate family are Chinese American, originally from Wuhan. They obtain American citizenship during the story. Yuyang also has a large Wuhanese extended family.
Yuyang comes out as queer in college (about 75% of the way through the book). Several of her friends are also queer and ethnically diverse.
Sketchy illustrations with bold lines. Color palatte is mainly reds and golds, with some light blues and mint greens in the background. Yuyang wears a red shirt throughout entire story. There are also a few black and white illustrations (dark black backgrounds) that represent Yuyang’s fears and worries in the form of a scary beast that wants to eat her.
Lots of Chinese words in phrases, both in Hanyu (characters) and pinyin (uses Arabic alphabet). Most are translated directly beneath the text. The words and phrases that are not translated are not essential to know for the story.
- immigration, discrimination, fitting in, coming out, difficult relationship with parent, brothers and sisters, extended family, Covid-19
LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW
Would adults like this book? YES! Adults who like graphic memoirs will certainly love it. It never feels “too young,” and the narrator is an adult for the last several chapters.
Would I buy this for my high school library? 100% YES! Be aware of some profanity (see notes below).
Would I buy this for my middle school library? MAYBE. I think this is okay for most 8th graders, but there is some profanity and very mild sexual content. See content notes below.
Would I buy this for my elementary school library? NO. It’s not an elementary book.
Language: There is some language. It’s not a lot, but the F-bomb is included. Definitely not gratuitious, nor is it anything the students don’t already hear in the school hallways.
Sexuality: Very mild, but be aware of an image of two females snuggling in bed; queer dating that is more awkward, shy, and sweet than sexual
Violence: Yuyang’s father sometimes slams his hand down or yells when angry.