BLOOM by Kevin Panetta and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau is a lovely, light, realistic graphic novel about the unsettling in-between teenage time of figuring out the answer to “What do you want to do?” The main character, Ari (short for Aristotle), has graduated high school and dreams of moving to Baltimore and performing in a band with his friends. His family, however, is depending on him to work in their bakery. Ari’s begrudging loyalty to his family and his drive to “get out of here” is mixed with his admission of being directionless. We get the sense his choices depend more on other people’s approval than his own desires. Panetta’s portrayal of rifts in family, friendships, and potential romantic partners is authentic and sometimes uncomfortable. And Ganucheau’s simple but emotive images draw readers in and help move the story forward.
Ari’s uncertainty is juxtaposed with new-to-town Hector’s decisive passion in life, as is Ari’s desire to leave his family’s bakery and Hector’s love of baking. What begins as a co-working friendship, “blooms” into flirtation and eventual romance. The interactions and images show a gentle progression in their relationship, and it is both fun to watch and frustrating as we witness Ari’s more immature actions affect everyone around him. Supporting characters are varied and have clear personalities, although the two female friends of Ari and Hector seem almost interchangeable.
The graphic novel also gives readers a behind-the-scenes view of struggles in a family business and of full-time residents in a tourist shore town. The various situation Ari encounters give us a wide view of his life and the choices he has, and doesn’t have. Aimed at ages 13+, the flirtation and romance between characters is decidedly PG. The most intimate moments are the honest and vulnerable interactions between the main characters. Bonus: The novel comes with a recipe for sourdough rolls!