The Tamakis tell this quiet story of two girls on the cusp of the teenage years, the ones where they start to notice all the "adult world" things that exist, and have always existed, around them. It's subtley beautiful and perfectly captures the in-between years...but it's by no means pleasant. I found Rose to be at that annoyingly, precociously negative phase where she's just insufferable and needs a good kick in the pants. But to her defense, she is bombarded with these very real, serious situations—like marital issues, miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, and slut-shaming—that bog down any remaining childhood carefree naivety as she starts to understand what they all mean. I still can't completely decide if I really enjoyed the story, but at least I understand that maybe I wasn't supposed to. The art, though, is phenomenal.
I ordered this book for my middle school library after reading a lot of YA buzz about it, as I'm trying to find materials a little more mature for my younger-skewed collection. After reading, I decided it's definitely not going on my normal library shelves. (I made it a "back-shelf" book that I've given to a couple of mature 8th graders...and even they were a little thrown by the mature language and subject-matter.) Though the characters are middle schoolers, this story is more of a poignant remembrance on your first encounters with situations you know are way too old for you...and my students are not in that reflective stage yet. It's hard to remember life with a sheltered perspective once that shelter is gone. An older teen might "get it," but I also have to think of those sheltered 5th graders; and thinking about a 10-year-old picking this up and reading it with a parent makes me squirm.
When Lucy is invited to speak at a comic convention in Norway, she decides to turn her hop across the pond into an adventure that takes her further afield to Sweden, Germany, and France. Having gone through a recent breakup, she grabs onto that mid-twenties bohemian moment where the "Why not?" commitment-free mindset leads to unexpected places and relationships. She once heard it called L'Age License, which basically means a "license to experience, mess up, license to fail, license to do...whatever, before you're settled." The phrase may or may not actually exist, but Lucy's own Age of License leads her to a new romance in Sweden, a reunion with friends in Germany, and a country respite with family in France.
According to my own recent statements on memoirs, I don't enjoy memoirs that have no extraordinary experience to share. And to be honest, backpacking through Europe in your twenties is more like a right of passage at this point than an utterly unique experience. And also, the mid-twenties angst of uncertainty is mind-numbingly over-represented. What makes Knisley an exception to my rule, though, is the way in which she tells her stories—I adore her illustrations. Her drawings, to me, add so much to the experiences she's sharing. The details create an ambiance of blissful memory that make us feel like we're being included in a private, special moment of the author's. We all have memories like that, where the details are seared into our brain; they're what make our own experiences unique to us even if they're completely ordinary to someone else. I think that's why I care more with Knisley. She doesn't just tell a story; she shows us what made it special.