Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American is a messy book. But it is all wrapped up in a neatly created graphic novel. The world of Laura Gao has been seen in other stories (this is a coming-of-age story with features we know: immigration, expectations of family, coming out), but hers is completely unique to her and therefore, to the reader.
At first, the book seems like it might be about the pandemic, and what happens to her and her family as Chinese Americans. And there are references to that side of things, but it is more the journey to the pandemic. It is about the life of Gao and what being Chinese, American, female, queer, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a cousin, means to her. Gao’s life started in Wuhan, China. At a young age, she moves to Texas where we see how foreign Wuhan is to her classmates and Texas is to her. And then back to Wuhan with her finally moving to California. All these pieces came together to tell her who she is and how she is part of so much culture and history.
Fun illustrations that set the tone of the book, flowing easy text, and wonderful allusions to pop culture and literature (such as American Born Chinese) are the pages we read and view. At times the panels are busy and detailed, other times simple and sparse. Either way, what is needed is given. There are light colors, interesting details to show feelings, moods and the places spoken about. Overall, this is an emotional and fun book; best for ages 13 and up not so much due to context but concepts.