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Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American (2022)

af Laura Gao

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19313143,758 (4.09)4
Seamlessly toggling between past and present, this funny graphic memoir follows a queer Chinese American's immigration to Texas where she just wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why she is attracted to girls.
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In Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Whuanese American, Laura Gao tells the story of her experience immigrating to the U.S. as a young child to follow her parents, who preceded her in immigrating for employment opportunities. Having spent her first few years in her grandparents’ care, she didn’t recognize her parents and felt a sense of displacement at moving to Texas. Gao describes her feelings of conflict as she sought to fit in while her parents had their own goals for her as the eldest daughter of immigrants. No one in the U.S. knew of Wuhan when she was young, but that changed after college.

Gao’s story is an American story of identity formation in a land of immigrants, though it also reveals the extra structural barriers that face immigrants. She discusses her conflicted feelings of identity as she tried to balance her heritage, her new home, and figure out who she was within both. Gao’s art brilliantly illustrates her story, using expressions and color to bring her memoir to vivid life. A great read that’s all too relevant given the rise of anti-Asian racism since the pandemic. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Dec 12, 2023 |
Laura Gao moved from Wuhan to Texas as a child and experienced drastic displacement and alienation as a minority in her small town. She soon gets a baby brother, and eventually they figure out how to team up, but the larger theme of the story is Laura figuring out her identity as a Chinese-American lesbian. Young Laura desperately wants to fit in, but doesn't feel acceptance in her majority-white school. The occasional trip back to China provides the opportunity to renew her bond with her cousins and practice the language. College at Penn provides a tremendous learning experience, in and out of the classroom, and living in San Francisco after college is a revelation. But when the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, Laura sees and feels the impact of anti-Asian hate.

The style is visually lively, with lots of artistic and video game references ("unlocked," "level up"). English is in black text, Chinese (translated into English or not) in blue.

See also: Kelly Yang, Thanhhai Lai, Ellen Oh, Lisa Yee

Quotes

I barely knew how to pronounce "Texas," let alone call it my home. Wuhan was more foreign than Mars here. I wished we'd never moved so that I wouldn't have to explain myself. (18)

DISS: Deception for Immigrant Sibling Solidarity (22)

Wuhanese 101 (p. 101)

"Do you miss it?"
"Yeah...I do. But things change. That's just how it is." (Laura and her dad, 109)

Finally, I could explore whatever I wanted without my friends, family, or faith in the way. Moving across the country [to Penn] gave me the perfect blank canvas. (167)

After being spoiled by how accepting San Francisco had been, I'd forgotten how easily people could turn when they're afraid. (232)

..I was scared to think that the place we all called home could change in a heartbeat. (265) ( )
  JennyArch | Dec 6, 2023 |
Representation: Asian main character
Trigger warnings; COVID-19 pandemic, bullying
Score: Five points out of ten.
This review can also be found on The StoryGraph.

This was a terrible graphic memoir, the main characters were just unlikable, the art style needed some improvement, and the lesbian romance felt so empty, I didn't feel anything for Laura and her girlfriend. Also felt like just an ordinary memoir, events such as COVID, moving to America, or the main character being Wuhanese just didn't make this memoir distinct enough from other ones. The speech bubble formatting was terrible as well, who illustrated this? I don't want to pick this up and reread this. If you like memoirs about an Asian character like this, try the Tryout by Christina Soontornvat instead of this. ( )
  Law_Books600 | Nov 3, 2023 |
Laura writes her story of coming to America from Wuhan, China with her parents. The birth of her younger brother through her move to San Francisco after college to pursue her dream of art is covered in this memoir of her life. She uses color and style to highlight different places and part of her identity. There was even a couple page spread inspired by American Born Chinese. A hard time making peace with her parents, understanding her identity as a work in progress, and coming out to friends and family. ( )
  ewyatt | Aug 14, 2023 |
I have never met a "staff recs" section in a bookstore like the one at Hooked. Enough books I have read and loved (some of which fall far from the beaten path) to fill my heart with trust, and then always somehow a handful of I DID NOT KNOW THIS BOOK EXISTED UNTIL THIS SECOND BUT NOW I NEED IT IMMEDIATELY. Like this one.

Listen, I don't now when Asian-Amereican immigration stories became a thing for me, but here we clearly are. Plus it's a graphic novel! And it's queer! And it grapples with the anti-Asian hate that rose during the pandemic.

I loved the energy in Gao's art, and I loved the honesty and humor in this. Given the subject matter, I think this finds an ultimately uplifting balance between the fear and the joy, and I'm impressed at how quickly such a timely book was brought to press.

I hope this book finds many, many readers. ( )
  greeniezona | Aug 2, 2023 |
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To my greatest inspiration and mentor, Ms. Alexander, for teaching me how to dream.

To Jerry, for keeping my ego in check while reviewing this book like a true little brother.

And finally, to my parents, whom I'll always love. I hope one day you'll read this and understand everything.
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San Francisco, January 2020, right after COVID is discovered.

The city of Wuhan is shutting down because of coronavirus. Officials speculate it came from bats sold at wet markets. Let's take some calls for viewers' opinions.
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Seamlessly toggling between past and present, this funny graphic memoir follows a queer Chinese American's immigration to Texas where she just wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why she is attracted to girls.

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