When I first picked up, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, I am embarrassed to say the cover and reading the title made my first thought about the book be, “Another whiny dude gets dumped by his hot, selfish girlfriend.” I was partly right. It is “Girl gets dumped by her hot, selfish girlfriend.”
Then I saw it was a First Second graphic novel. They do not do easy or traditional reads. Even Stargazing has a surprise at the end that is not light and that is meant for the younger crowd.
As I was reading, I was thinking it is not an easy read for another reason: there are no chapter breaks. There are a few spots where the story line takes a breath, but that is it. And I was trying to think what the theme is other than “Girl meets Girl; Girl 1 falls in love with Girl 2; Girl 2 cheats on/uses Girl 1; Girl 1 takes her back. And back. And back.” Then I realized Mariko Tamaki’s point was something said early in the story: “How do you break up with someone who has broken up with you?”
There are also side stories. Freddy (Girl 1) has a few friends who cover the spectrum of life: two are boyfriend/boyfriend, one is a girl trying to fit in and later a college girl having at least three jobs to pay for college. Their home-lives are mostly not traditional (two same-sex parents here, one parent there). And one has a family who does not/could not accept their son’s sexuality. Freddy’s family is the most traditional (mom, dad and a younger brother) yet there are non-traditional elements (she wonders if her parents still like each other; her mom is Asian and her dad white). Also brought up is monogamy vs. poly relationships in a mostly casual manner, but it is there. And Laura Dean (Girl 2) seems to be very open in exploring her sexuality (Freddy’s girlfriend yesterday, into guys today, making out with a “straight” girl tomorrow).
Therefore, there is a lot going on. You might see yourself in Freddy, Doodle (the best friend), Vi (college girl), Buddy, Eric (the boyfriends) one of the parents or even Laura Dean.
And I did not even mention the illustrations! Rosemary Valero-O’Connell paints a picture of these characters in a manner that shows you who they are (Freddy sometimes has no features, especially with Laura Dean); when Freddy is walking away from her friends (literally and emotionally) they are seen in the background, fading. Laura Dean’s actions are like any slimily person trying to manipulate their girlfriend. And when a line towards the end that is most eye-opening not only for Freddy, but the reader as well, Valero-O’Connell creates this with an almost “sound effect” manner. I was almost surprised that there was not a lightbulb over Freddy’s head.
Teens and adults probably should read this just to see “what is out there” for gender/sexuality stories but also, to read a story that shows how a relationship regardless who the partners are has its ups and downs and sometimes, no matter how good it feels, can be most toxic.