Lynda Barry’s other near-perfect YA novel, The Good Times Are Killing Me, marks my completing re-reading her non comics work, as I read and reviewed Cruddy last year. I do think Cruddy is a singular work of genius, but this novel is a close second and one that I find deeply moving and beautiful. It’s a short book, only 131 pages, but Barry manages to pack a lot of emotion and layered, thoughtful commentary on growing up, friendship, systemic societal racism, and the power of music.
The Good Times Are Killing Me is from the point of view of Edna Arkins, who during the course of book has to grapple with family issues (her parents divorce, inter-family tensions over money and status) and the dissolution of her relationship with her best friend Bonna. Edna is White and Bonna is Black, and Barry captures the tensions of their relationship during a particularly fraught historical period, with white flight going on in their neighborhood and the tensions of the 60s/70s surrounding them. The unspoken rules that surround them slowly and inexorably conspire to split them apart. The delicacy and power with which the narrative captures all the little moments that are actually so meaningful and have such a depth of racism to them makes this book such a standout to me. I find it to be all the small continual moments of injustice that really uphold the unjust and inhumane power structures, and Barry shows that really well here with moments like Edna’s mother not allowing her to get in Bonna’s family car, or the moment where all the White Girl Scouts are invited to a birthday party but Bonna isn’t. AWhile all the adults claim to be unprejudiced, we clearly see all the innumerable ways prejudice has seeped into their lives and how the cycle is being perpetuated between Bonna and Edna, despite their deep friendship.
I love Lynda Barry’s work and this was a great re-read. I’ve read this maybe three or four times and it holds up every time. I think it’s well worth reading for any age range, as it gets across so much in such a short amount of time, and the narrative overall is interesting and compelling.
Warnings for racism, miscarriage