Review: MESSY ROOTS by Laura Gao

MESSY ROOTS: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao manages to braid multiple threads into a wonderfully relatable and entertaining first-hand account of immigration, identity, and being a target of racist pandemic-related attitudes. From its opening scene referencing the earliest days of COVID19 awareness to the author’s connection to a self-identity that suits her, Laura’s honesty and vulnerability brings the reader in and helps us relate to her experiences.

Having spent her early years in Wuhan, China, four-year-old Laura moved to Texas with her family and went about learning a new language, a new culture, and new ways to navigate family life and friendships. Some memories will feel familiar to all readers: a child’s disappointment at finding sewing supplies, not cookies, stored in a cookie tin, collaborating against parents with a sibling, and competition between classmates and teammates. Other experiences add the more specific layers of Chinese school, deciding on religious affiliation, feeling not Chinese enough, or “white-washed,” and navigating coming out to friends and family. Each thread is told with vulnerability and directness.

Gao’s illustrations are expressive and fun, moving and tender, and the heavy use of strong colors works well to emphasize important moments throughout the story. Highlights include the dark red used in moments of restrained anger and frustration, the structured use of black outlines and boxes when technology is used, and the incredible way emotions are emphasized with wild lines and different drawing styles.

Laura Gao’s MESSY ROOTS brings readers into the center of what the pandemic brought up for many immigrants, especially those from China, and even more for those from Wuhan. The pain, confusion, anger, and defiance in the face of racism and fear come through even as the joys of family, friendship, and self-discovery balance it out. This graphic memoir is informative and fun to read.

Highly recommended.

About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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