In GUTS, Raina Telgemeier tells the story of her elementary school self to expertly depict how an innocent and common occurrence can spur anxiety that manifests in physical symptoms to become all but debilitating. When 4th Grade Raina catches the stomach flu, the experience of vomiting all night makes her terrified of getting sick again and having to relive the experience. As the year goes on and she enters 5th grade, her anxiety intertwines with school stress, social discomforts, and family chaos. The authentic storytelling and humor in GUTS will be relatable to many readers, and the graphic novel openly discusses topics like therapy, bodily changes, empathy, and self-advocacy.
Telgemeier’s depiction of how stress and anxiety can both creep up and suddenly pounce on young people is intense and visceral. The images of how anxiety surrounds young Raina are clouds and swirls of a sickly greens combined with physical reactions and worries like scared of surgery, not enough space, fear of vomit, mean people, war, drowning, stupidity… Included are so many of the events and worries that parents and caregivers don’t hear from their loved ones when they ask, “How was school today?”
GUTS is not all anxiety and gloom, however. The laughter and camaraderie of friendship, adolescent jokes, a delight in farts, descriptions of family dinners, and Raina’s joyful escape via creating comics all play a role. In addition, the calm of the therapist’s office, where Raina’s parents eventually take her, shows the relief and comfort of someone paying attention to you, and only to you. The honesty with which Telgemeier describes the chaotic world of her family’s apartment and the effects of self-doubt on someone still very young will help readers, both young and old, appreciate the challenges we all face.
With her usual self-deprecating and heart-warming style, Telgemeier leads readers through typical elementary school drama and difficulties. She also ensures that her audience is not only presented with the problems of the story, but also shown tools to help make the problems more manageable. GUTS is an entertaining graphic novel that straddles the gross-out joys of passing gas, various other bodily functions, and hints at upcoming physical changes. It is also a lesson in coping, empathy, and growing up.
Out September 17th, 2019