LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Publisher: First Second
DISCLAIMER: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me contains scenes of emotional abuse that some readers may find disturbing.
Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell tackle the sensitive issue of toxic relationships, exploring the impact that instability and manipulation can have on our lives. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is undoubtedly one of the most important works of LGBTQ+ fiction. It’s a book that doesn’t stray away from the often-avoided topic of emotional abuse – a topic which is currently underrepresented in fiction.
One issue I’ve encountered multiple times in my pursuit of decent LGBTQ+ representation, is the overly positive portrayal of queer characters. It seems that, for whatever reason, writers stray away from showing any difficulty in gay relationships. Whilst this is all fine and dandy, it’s just not realistic...
In my opinion, this over-positive portrayal contributes to younger individuals getting “fairy-tale” syndrome – a.k.a. the assumption that all relationships are perfect, which is mentally unhealthy for a number of reasons.
Anyone who’s ever been in a toxic/borderline mentally abusive relationship will truly appreciate this book. Younger readers need characters that they can relate to, and Tamaki provides that in our protagonist, Freddy Riley.
Initially, we’re introduced to Freddy via an email narrative between herself and the relationship columnist Anna Vice (a format that works well throughout). We’re given some context into Freddy’s on-again/off-again relationship with the intoxicating and hugely popular Laura Dean.
Freddy explains the continuous heartbreak caused by Laura Dean, but admits that she just keeps getting drawn back in because she’s in love with her. We then see Laura, cheating on Freddy at the school dance, prompting them to breakup yet again (this is not the first time their relationship has been on the rocks). This is the start of a never-ending downward spiral, as Freddy lets herself be dragged into a mess of manipulation and gaslighting.
Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell take you on a journey through Freddy’s everyday life, exploring her relationships, friendships and self-growth. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me also deals with other difficult themes, such as abortion. I don’t want to spoil the plot any further – this book is something you’re best off reading without much prior knowledge to the plot.
Tamaki’s dialogue is written so believably. There’s a strong sense of character building throughout, amplified through small details that portray the character’s personalities. For example, I love the fact that Tamaki wrote some dialogue for Freddy’s teddys when she imagines them talking to her or chiming in on conversations. It was just so damn adorable - a cute idea to balance out the sometimes-solemn mood of the book.
The artwork in this book is outstanding. With a simple colour palette of white, black, greys and pink, the focus remains on the form of Valero-O’Connell’s illustrations. Soft, gestural strokes paired with light pink reflect the protagonist’s innocent and naïve nature.
Intricate foliage and other detailed items are used to create an adolescent feel to the story, whilst solid black backgrounds portray changes in mood. The settings are all highly detailed and believable environments for the age range of the characters.
The speech bubbles often reflect the sound, a unique technique I haven’t come across much. This visually portrays the intent of Tamaki’s dialogue perfectly, enhancing an already impeccable script.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is more than just a book – it’s reassurance. It warms my heart to think of the message it might bring to any potential readers out there who are struggling, or have previously struggled, with an abusive relationship. Or, if you want to read an LGBTQ+ book that isn’t just a predictable fairy-tale-esque narrative, then I say give it a go. Both Tamaki’s writing and Valero-O’Connell’s artwork are a masterpiece in their own right, but together...just wow!