Wednesday, March 14, 2012

GN Review -- Good As Lily / Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm

Many adults remember questioning their place in the world as teenagers, and many teenagers have more than a few questions about identity and where they'll end up as adults.  What are the important things in life?  Who am I, and who will I become?  What am I supposed to do with my life?  Often, the answer may present itself by thinking about the kind of person we are and have been, as well as imagining--or in the case of Good As Lily, seeing--what the future might hold for you.

Grace Kwon is a bright, charismatic young woman who's just turned 18. She's been accepted into Stanford, and has a group of friends that adore her and whom she adores.  She seems to have it all, but being on the precipice of college life and adulthood poses a lot of uncertainties for her.  She has a crush on her young drama teacher, which the students all seem to know about, is apprehensive about what direction to take with all her talent and determination, and has a number of issues with the various people in her life.

Things take a turn for the fantastic when she, upon retrieving a t-shirt her friend Jeremy's had gifted to her back at the park where they celebrated, encounters three strange versions of herself at different ages: age 6, 29, and 70.  Freaked out by what they represent on several levels, Grace hides her various selves in her room and tries hard to wish them away.  They interact with her at several points, affecting her life and relationships with others in various ways for the better, worse, and at times just plain chaotic.  As she gradually resolves various issues with her family and her own perceptions of her self-worth, they gradually disappear, their insights and help having taught her a few things about life and giving her a better sense of direction as she realizes what's important to her.

This is an uplifting and well written story about making choices in life and living with the consequences, whatever they might be.  Grace, a charming and likeable young Korean woman who seems to have everything going for her, is not without her own issues, insecurities, and personal nemeses, be they an inferiority complex about being made fun of as a child, the feeling of being forever second to a dead sister in the eyes of her parents, an unrequited and idealized crush on a man she can never have, or the inability to see her friend Jeremy's long-standing attraction for her.  Her various selves represent choices made about those issues, as well as the baggage she has as she considers her own future.

Her youngest self represents her at her most awkward.  She is a greedy little eater, and fat, and was made fun of by her classmates, some of whom still choose to bully her in high school.  Her adult self is self-absorbed and shallow, and tries to use her good looks and charm to seduce the man she couldn't have as a teenage student.  Her elderly self is a bitter woman who lived a life of solitude, and now has nothing but cigarettes and liquor to look forward to as a result.  Realizing how blind she had been in her younger years to the attentions of others helps the main character to overcome that obstacle, perhaps changing her own future.

The characters are memorable, and play majorly into how these issues are resolved, making for amusing, dramatic, and often poignant situations.  Little Grace's resolution causes a bake sale to go awry in the worst possible way, but Teen Grace's talk with her family about Lily sets both of their issues at ease in a heartwarming way.  Elder Grace at one point attempts to commit suicide, but is saved by a frantic and eloquent Jeremy, who helps her to realize both how blind she'd been to him and that life's little miracles make it worth continuing.

I enjoyed Hamm's artwork, which didn't really focus on presenting detail as much as conveying expression and mood.  It makes for a style that is simple, well rendered, and which serves the story extremely well.  Hamm fills the conveyance of a gesture or a simple facial expression or twitch with meaning, and keeps you reading for the visuals every bit as much as for the enjoyable and well-told story.

My one fair-sized issue with this tale is the title, which revolves around a sister of Grace's who died at age 8, suddenly from meningitis.  The issues with Lily, while perhaps large, are given little direct attention, which is some cause for confusion.  There's just enough given so that you know that it's an issue, but a more in-depth exploration of that plot thread might have enhanced the work.

Overall, I find this to be a very good story, and a definite must-read for anyone who's ever had questions about identity, what's important in life, and who they want to become.  Grace and her various selves make the journey both highly entertaining and more than a little educational.  The artwork is expressive and well-done, and the supporting cast help make the story memorable.  Highly recommended.

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