‘Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me’ by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is a YA graphic novel with LGBTQ+ representation. It currently has an average rating of 4.11 on Goodreads, and I rated it 4 stars.
The book follows Freddy, a young girl desperately in love with her on again and off again girlfriend Laura Dean. Laura Dean is the most popular girl in school: outgoing, cute and charming but she may not be the best girlfriend. After their last breakup Doodle, Freddy’s best friend, takes her to a medium who tells her to break up with Laura – but Freddy isn’t sure she can, and Laura Dean keeps coming back and making Freddy wonder if she is the problem as she loses her friends and comes to need Laura more than ever before. Fortunately there are new friends and an advice columnist to help Freddy navigate the turmoils of love as a teenager.
“It’s true that giving can be a part of love. But, contrary to popular belief, love should never take from you, Freddy.”
I read this as one of my picks for Asian Readthon this month and I’m glad that it made me buy this, though I must admit, I was a little weary of picking this up after seeing nothing but people seeing their praises for this graphic novel, and that kind of hype always makes me ask – can it really be that good? Yes. Yes it is. Whilst this is geared to and written very much for teenagers, it’s a brilliant story of friendship, toxic relationships and how we should all deal with and perceive love in the modern age.
I know one thing many people don’t like about graphic novels is the limited time they get to spend with the characters, and they can often feel one-dimensional and flat to some people for this reason. I personally have never suffered from that problem, and I think Tamaki does a brilliant job here in creating several distinct characters. The two that felt the most real to me were Freddy and Doodle, partly because their friendship is one of the main focuses of this novel. Freddy wasn’t a perfect heroine, nor did she need to be because that’s not when any of us are really like and this story is very much grounded in reality. Doodle actually may have been closer to a perfect heroine than Freddy was, and was clearly a very sweet soul who loved and cared for her friends. Both of them had grief that was palpable – particularly Doodle, and as a reader you grew to quickly care about them individually but also the state of their friendship.
This isn’t to say the other characters were written poorly. My favourite character in this was actually Vi, who was a really fun character and more relatable to me as a reader at 21, and I thought she was a good addition to the story as she aided Tamaki’s storytelling. Laura Dean was also well written as she wasn’t painted as this evil character who was intent on hurting her girlfriend, she was just a teenager with a troubled family who made mistakes and didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like – and most teenagers don’t, they often make the same mistakes and decisions Laura Dean did. She wasn’t even painted as a bad person, she was selfish and inconsiderate but in no way was she considered evil – if anything, her ability to be liked and loved by her own friends proved she wasn’t. Freddy didn’t call her names or a bad person, but called her a ‘shitty girlfriend’ which she was, she was just a person who made bad choices and wasn’t good for someone and I really appreciated that. I also liked Buddy and Eric and I thought their relationship was really cute, although I would have liked to have seen more of them as they felt underdeveloped compared to other characters.
If you’re looking for a plot driven graphic novel this isn’t the book for you, it’s very much character driven and focuses on the plights of Freddy and her relationships with the people around her. For this reason it not only provides great discourse on romantic relationships but also friendships, and often how those two types of relationships can interact. A hard lesson most of us have to learn at some point in life is not to become too involved in the person we’re dating, otherwise we not only lose ourselves but we lose those we care about as we can neglect them. This was definitely a lesson Freddy had to learn. It was also handled really well I think because not only did people like Buddy call her out on how she neglected her friends in favour of her girlfriend, she witnessed what that did to Doodle when she needed her. It also wasn’t irreversible, the book’s ultimate lesson was it didn’t have to be that way, and it also shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t be with someone who may not explicitly demand all of your time, but ultimately distances you from your friends and means you can be a bad friend.
The biggest criticism I think you could levy against this, is that it doesn’t truly add anything new to the discussion focused on toxic relationships and dealing with love as a teenager. Freddy falls in love quickly and hard as many teenagers do, but she falls in love with someone who isn’t good for her which I know is realistic because I suffered from the same problem at 16. Whilst this book would have been fantastic for me to read then, I have learnt my lesson since then and this offered no new perspective on love and relationships. It’s offers a very basic narrative on how love should never take from you and how you should never have to suffer for it, and neither should your friends, but it doesn’t go any deeper than that and therefore feels quite surface level at the age of 21.
It should also be noted that I think one of the most appealing things about this graphic novel is the art style. I love Valero-O’Connell’s art and how she chose to offset the black and white contrasts in this with pink, a colour I thought was a great choose when talking about love, as pink is often associated with the brighter and happier sides of love and this book doesn’t solely focus on that.
Overall, a fantastic novel and one I recommend if you’re looking for your next graphic novel read. It’s fun and quirky, but this is also balanced really well with other serious topics and concepts you have to navigate not only in your teenage years but also sometimes as a young adult.