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Love, identity and ambition take center stage in 'Roaming'

A page from the graphic novel <em>Roaming. </em>
Drawn and Quarterly
A page from the graphic novel Roaming.

Imagine New York City, 2009.

It's spring break and you're exploring the big city for the first time with friends. There's tension. Drama. Fits of irrepressible laughter.

This is Roaming, the first adult graphic novel from the Caldecott-winning cousins Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. The cousins' previous collaborations include the young adult comics Skim and This One Summer.

The story in Roaming spans just five days as old friends Dani and Zoe reunite on their first break from college. Tagging along is Dani's new classmate, Fiona — whose presence quickly threatens to upend the trip.

As a romance begins to blossom between Zoe and Fiona, Dani is thrust to the side and, momentarily, forgotten.

The Tamakis have such a talent for capturing the highs and lows of friendship and love. Consider Fiona, whose strong personality and lust for adventure quickly cause friction among the friend group.

"Okay, but for real. We're paying too much money to hang out in our damn hostel," Fiona says. "We are gorgeous. We are young. We are in New York City. Now put on your [f---ing] shoes."

The fourth character here is, of course, the city itself. Illustrated in spare pastel pink and periwinkle coloring, images of famous museums, crowded streets, giant pieces of pizza and mountains of garbage abound through the more than 400 pages.

A page from<em> Roaming.</em>
/ Drawn and Quarterly
Drawn and Quarterly
A page from Roaming.

But then, juxtaposed against the rainy days are flights of fancy, like when Zoe and Dani kiss at the Natural History Museum and are suddenly tumbling through a kaleidoscope of butterflies.

There's a magic to Roaming. And it's not just in the gorgeous illustrations, but the story itself.

Young Asian American and LGBTQ+ people are front and center here, experimenting with love, sex, identity and ambition.

Roaming takes its place beside Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Maia Kobabe's Genderqueer and Alice Oseman's Heartstopper in the growing canon of great queer comics. (To which Mariko Tamaki's previous work, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, also belongs.)

Given the rise in the number books, often containing LGBTQ+ content, being challenged for removal from some American schools and libraries, I can't help but wonder whether a book ban lies in Roaming's future.

I sincerely hope not.

Messy, tender and teeming with life, Roaming is exactly the kind of story young people today should be reading. I couldn't put it down.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).