Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book via BookishFirst in exchange for an honest review.
In a coming of age graphic novel reminiscent of The Prince and the Dressmaker, Supper Club, and As the Crow Flies, Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra deftly and beautifully tackle the injustice surrounding politicized appearances through the story of Marlene and her family.
Marlene has spent her whole life hearing about good hair and bad hair…and her hair is, of course, bad. Meanwhile, everyone else around her, from her best friend Camila to her mom, her beloved aunt Ruby, Glenny at the salon, the bullies at school, and, worst of all, her perfect cousin Diana, all seem to have good hair. And after years of weekly painful salon trips, she can’t figure out how to make her hair behave the way everyone wishes it would, or why she can’t just wear her hair naturally in the first place. Naturally, she takes matters into her own hands with mixed results, eventually learning how to care for and style her hair the way she wants to. This message of choice is doubly punctuated by the background illustrations, which feature characters with a huge variety of hairstyles.
But this book isn’t just about hair because really, it’s never just about hair. Throughout Frizzy, Bousamra’s warm and welcoming illustrations hint at the beginnings of a conversation that isn’t spoken aloud until later in the book: that so many of the folks with good hair look different in other ways too. I was thrilled that, when the time for that conversation did come, the words anti-blackness made it onto the page because that brief but impactful moment between Marlene and her aunt is sure to ripple through anyone who reads it, along with the rest of Tia Ruby’s wise words on self-worth, body autonomy, generational trauma, internalized racism, and microaggressions. And of course, those are complicated issues that take more than a few pages of a book to truly address, but Ortega and Bousamra acknowledge that, and frame it as a beginning and a reminder that in order to battle these things we have to first be aware of them. Frizzy is much more than the heartwarming, neatly packaged resolution in its final pages, it’s the start of something beautiful for Marlene, her mother, and every kid who picks up this book and finds themselves repeating Ruby’s mantra there is no such thing as bad hair.