cover image Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American

Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American

Laura Gao. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $22.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-306776-9

In this fresh, frank, and tender debut, author-illustrator Gao offers a compellingly layered graphic memoir, which navigates recollections of an early-aughts adolescence as well as Covid-19-era anti-Asian racism. When her parents, who had earlier moved to the U.S. for graduate school, bring Gao from Wuhan, China, to Coppell, Tex., four-year-old Gao struggles to assimilate. But amid familiar incidences such as the “lunchbox moment,” the narrative delicately highlights myriad Asian diasporic experiences that Gao encounters over the years while expertly peppering frames with humor and pop cultural allusions. Video game quest sequences and references to High School Musical and “H&M&M” further conjure not-so-distant decades past, while snacks such as White Rabbit candy and Haw Flakes evoke many an Asian childhood. Interspersed Chinese vocabulary, themes of China’s modernization paralleling personal change, and a folkloric Moon Rabbit motif add structure as Gao grapples with self-discovery—particularly a burgeoning awareness of queerness. Colorist Weiwei Xu adds atmosphere to Gao’s fluid, expressive cartoons, employing vivid reds, oranges, and yellows, and cooler-toned washes. A multidimensional, thoroughly entertaining account of growing into queer Asian American identity. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Book Group. (Mar.)