So I finally read this book that I first learned about through Asian American Literature Fans. It was more required reading, as I explained in my last blog post about it, than a usual interest of mine.
When I read a book I know I will review, I will make notes as I go. Previously I have made notes in a “Word” document with Google Docs but lately I have used Evernote web app or on my phone. For this book, I did not make notes. This novel, unlike the usual, did not impart lessons along the way or particularly memorable quotations.
It began innocently enough, a short comic about how her parents met and her childhood when boys started to come onto her radar through pre-teen discussions with her best girlfriend and innocent “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” with boys at school.
After a couple of boyfriends with increasingly heavy petting, she had sex for the first time. Then, if the comics are in chronological order, she tried alcohol and then drugs (acid). How her parents handled her escapades is not directly addressed but a rare poignant comic in which she ran away one summer but returned in a moment of clarity, she remarked on how there became a rift between herself and her parents. And I felt like she must be quite the late teenager by then but this all happened when she was 14-15 years old!
She met Jason and things were complicated because he was always imminently going to jail and they broke up. He was, in retrospect and with the most regret, “the one”. And it seems like there were twenty guys before and twenty guys after him of every awkward configuration of relationship you can imagine. And a lot of drugs and alcohol. For this to be possible, she was seeing multiple guys at any given time.
At 18, she met Francis and this was the serious, long-lasting five-year relationship where they lived together after a year. With a big slant in this memoir towards the physical side of her relationships, you don’t know about the level to which they were supportive and in love; instead, the torrid and unhappy part of the relationships are emphasized. As with any relationship, things were not always sunny and in searching for a solution, they explored an open relationship, her “lesbianism” and bringing in another partner (like a guy). It all seems surreal when depicted graphically.
After Francis, several other guys came and went but “eventually I realized that the ME I knew was mostly a woman reflected through the eyes of other people. It took a long time before I got to know myself by myself.” Section dividers used the stages of metamorphosis to divide up stages of her life and with her epiphany, she could finally emerge as a butterfly. As admitted in the artist statement at her website, MariNaomi likes to use animals as double entendres. She eventually emerged as a butterfly. But butterflies with their colour and lightness were used throughout the novel to connotate illusion, particularly those while under the influence of drugs.
Someone who gets her act together in her teens or early twenties is extremely lucky with so many external influences and pressures. MariNaomi seems to get it together in her mid- to late twenties and has gone through the spectrum of experiences that could fuel an artist for a lifetime. An ELLE Magazine review called it, “a coming-of-age that, for all its bumps, isn’t about victimology and regret.” What strikes me, and I shouldn’t be so surprised by myself, is my difficulty to not judge and simply accept her choices. I guess that’s just what makes me me and my unwavering values.