Twin sisters and indie pop duo Tegan and Sara Quin, known as Tegan and Sara, have partnered with award-winning cartoonist Tillie Walden on Junior High, a middle grade graphic novel out May 30 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The first in a duology, Junior High follows loosely fictionalized versions of the Canadian twins after a move to Calgary with their mother and stepfather Bruce has them starting middle school without their old friends and previous comforts. While facing the challenges of adapting to a new social scene, the twins begin forging their own paths on the road through adolescence including navigating their father’s new relationship, making friends, exploring their burgeoning sexual identity, and developing a passion for music.
The collaboration with Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Walden was announced last year, with Sara noting that Walden was “their first pick.” Equally excited at the prospect of working together, Walden said, “I can’t say no to Tegan and Sara!”
Though the pop musicians didn’t know about all the shared connections between Walden and themselves at first, Walden did, and it played a role in her excitement to collaborate.
“I said yes so immediately because I felt a connection on the queer element, and on the twin element,” Walden said. “I think that the ideas that I came up with were really rooted in my experience being a twin. It’s such a different dynamic from a regular sibling.”
For Sara, the revelation of working with another twin as a collaborator and artist gave her confidence that their individuality would be represented both thematically and visually, considering that in her opinion, representations of twins in film and other media has often been “pretty flat. As far as I’m concerned, it’s very, ‘we can’t tell them apart’ or “one’s good and one’s bad.’”
“Tilly as a twin, regardless of being fraternal or identical, is one of the things that is really captured in the book.” Sara said. “The more time you spend with these beautiful illustrations, you start to see the Sara in Sara and the Tegan in Tegan. It’s deeply personal for me—it makes you feel very seen.”
The collaborative process got underway during the pandemic, with Tegan and Sara drafting the script and passing it along to Walden, who has often cited that she doesn’t work with scripts on her solo projects. In this case, however, she said it was “actually great because what I don’t like about scripts is making them, but having an actual roadmap for a book made it the number one most relaxing graphic novel experience I have ever had in my life.”
“I basically got to take the most fun part of the process, which is the translation into comics, and finessing things into their best form,” Walden said. “It was so much fun to be able to engage with a story that I could decide where I would connect to it, and where I would try to kind of draw myself into it.”
Though Junior High is based on aspects of the twins’ real lives, the story is set in the present, rather than the ’90s when the twins were in school, allowing them to envision what life could have been like growing up Gen Z and help forge a connection with readers.
“We were really excited about reimagining what our life would be like if we were young now,” Tegan said. “We were such confident, gregarious, outgoing kids. [Growing up today] we probably would have come out earlier. We probably would have felt more confident about who we were because we had such an alternative left of center family. We probably would have felt okay with telling them [we were queer]. We would have absolutely started writing earlier. It was just easier for us to tell an aspirational story by adding in some of the modern thinking.”
Junior High is a first for all, as it marks the middle grade debut for each collaborator. Walden has won awards for her YA graphic novels Spinning and Are You Listening? Tegan and Sara’s first literary endeavor was their adult memoir High School, also out from FSG. Their adult editor, Sean McDonald, introduced Tegan and Sara to Wesley Adams, who then approached the sisters about adapting High School for a younger audience, and thus Junior High, and a starkly different creative process, was born.
“When we were writing High School, it was like, “Don’t touch my story,’” Sara said. “I wrote my story, and Tegan wrote her story. But the thing that we so naturally adapted to for Junior High was that we had to share the story. I wrote as much of Tegan’s story as she wrote of mine. Something may not a be a very Tegan way to write a moment, but I got to write it and I got to add this thing, whereas I tend to be a bummer. And Tegan writes little Sara with a lot more levity and humor than I would probably afford myself in those situations. It’s been beautiful to add that texture.”
A large part of Tegan and Sara’s story is, of course, music. The Grammy-nominated pair has released 10 albums since 1999; their most recent album, Crybaby, was released last year. The duo have become icons in the LGBTQ+ community, not only for singing about queer identity in their music, but for also being vocal about political matters affecting the queer community. Junior High revisits their musical origins, even pulling from their own discography for readers savvy enough to catch the references, and gave them a chance to be kinder to those young hopeful versions of themselves.
“We as adults are so hard on our younger selves,” Tegan said. “We’re so tough on our first creations or, the way we see video or photos of ourselves. Through the process of doing High School and now Junior High, I think Sara and I have become so much gentler with our younger selves,” Tegan said.
The Quins and Walden will continue to expand on the experiences of young Tegan and Sara with a second volume in the duology that gets “real fictional.” That book is currently in the works, and is described by Tegan as “our Home Alone in a weird way.”
“I feel like what we did in Junior High, is this fascinating start to their story and how they’re both individuals,” Walden said. “Book two is different because it deals with what it means to turn your passion into something more concrete, into an online presence and into a career. It’s Tegan and Sara really out in the world.”
Junior High by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin, illus. by Tillie Walden. FSG, May 30; $22.99 ISBN 978-0-374-31301-2; $14.99 ISBN 978-0-374-31302-9