Author and artist Sophia Glock’s debut YA graphic memoir, Passport, depicts an adolescence that is both typical and highly unusual. As a high school student born to American parents and attending international schools in various South American countries, Glock feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere; she navigates friendships, crushes, and the desire to rebel against her parents... who she gradually realizes work in intelligence. Glock spoke with PW about making a secret public and learning about herself and her family in the process.
When did you realize that your teen years and your parents’ professions were topics you wanted to write about, and/or that you could write about?
The thing that makes it interesting [my parents’ work in intelligence] was the reason I couldn’t write it. But I wrote a seven-page comic called “Nightstand” about looking for chocolate in my mom’s nightstand as a little girl, and it encompassed all the things I imagined I might talk about [in a memoir]: secrets and hidden pleasures, and crafting your identity around what you perceive your parents to be. I started to hear a voice and find a way in.
My parents were incredibly supportive. Maybe because they knew they could never talk about [their work]. They were gratified to know someone could tell their story, even if pertinent details were omitted. The things they did working in secret—that taught me how to be an observer. But then I did the opposite. I don’t hide, I illuminate.
What parallels did you see between the emotional landscape of the teen years and the secrecy of your parents’ professions?
During the process of writing, I discovered the weird poignancy of having the veil lift in terms of realizing what my family did, which parallels what every adolescent goes through: the awkward and painful realization that the world is not what you thought it was.
How did you create the character of yourself, who is fairly rebellious?
When I was having trouble figuring out the book, my sister asked me, “What were your goals in high school? What are your goals now?” For all the awkwardness and pain and depression of high school, I was also very committed to enjoying myself.
In one scene in the book, where you’re helping with hurricane relief, you wonder, “Did I really make a difference by stuffing rice into plastic bags?” What would you say to young people who might read this book and think about their position in a globalized world?
There were a lot of gifts to the way I was raised, and one is perspective. It’s hard to see what you’re in when it’s the only thing you’ve ever known. And living overseas, I saw a variety of ways of life. I lived in lots of different countries. You see differences in not just culture but infrastructure. That perspective is incredibly useful to me as an adult. That scene was also meant to illustrate the vanity of my efforts on some level. But that’s how you get out there. I hesitate to say “volunteer because it’s good for you,” but at the same time, any attempt to step outside of yourself is almost always beneficial. And then maybe it will be good for the groups and communities who need it.
As a parent yourself, what did you learn from your parents about maintaining an identity that is separate from the life you lead with your family?
My parents gave up a lot to have children, but they didn’t sacrifice their careers. They said, “Yes, and.” Ultimately, I think that’s a powerful model to witness. My great fear when I had children was that I would be obliterated and that I would say, “Screw the world.” I’d seen that story. I was so relieved on the other side that I was still ambitious and wanted things that had nothing to do with my children. The idea that a life in the arts, or intelligence, or running a business is somehow at odds with being a fantastic parent is insulting. And I do think my parents gave that to me.
Passport by Sophia Glock. Little, Brown, $17.99 Nov. 30 ISBN 978-0-316-45900-6