Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-o'connell

reviewed by jim hepplewhite

Cover for  Laura Dean…

Cover for Laura Dean…

To write that Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is gorgeous undersells it. Artist Rosemary Valero-O'Connell draws the proceedings with an undeniable charisma. Every turn away, every turn to look at something else is deliberately weighted. The teenage angst is almost unbearable in the way that makes me wonder how I ever survived it.

Plot wise, not much happens. Frederica Riley (Freddy, a student at a Berkeley high school) engages in an on-again, off-again relationship with Laura Dean, who obviously cheats on them. This is Freddy's first experience with the type of relationship, and it overwhelms her. It's up to the team to execute caring about the characters, and by God, they do. The only question left by the end of the book is "will Freddy break up with Laura Dean", and given the earnestness of the characters and the work, it's not much of a question.

A page from  Laura Dean…

A page from Laura Dean…

It reads like fan fiction to me, in the sense that Laura Dean… lets you spend time with the characters. Presumably, a completely different team would've cut the page count in half, but Mariko Tamaki and Ms. Valero-O'Connell trust in their skills enough to let scenes linger, whether it's Doodle (Freddy's friend who likes Dungeons & Dragons and avoids cell phones) and Freddy going to a resale shop or Freddy's family going bowling. I'd ordinarily be worried about using such a limited color palate (b/w, greyscale, and a soft pink), but it turns out that Ms. Valero-O'Connell uses that single color so carefully that bringing on an entire spectrum of color would look overwhelming.

You can't be young again. You can't feel those feelings as intensely as you did then, but Laura Dean… shows you how it felt all the same. Like reading an old journal from the period, except authored infinitely better than you could write.

When I read Laura Dean…, I was in college again, and there was 3 am and a woman that wasn't good for me. The specifics will be different for you, but I bet you'll feel the same way. I wrote for Bleeding Cool that Laura Dean… was execution dependent, and what I meant there was it's a story that requires the team to execute it well, because there's relatively little to fall back on if they can't.

Dear God, they execute.