The Contradictions – written and illustrated by Sophie Yanow

 The Contradictions – written and illustrated by Sophie Yanow, Drawn & Quarterly, 9781770464070, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Paperpack graphic novel

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? This handsome autobiographical comic documents Sophie’s semester abroad in Paris, including a haphazard spring break trip to Amsterdam and Berlin. She’s a queer, depressed, vegetarian introvert, dabbling with feminist theory and anarchist tendencies, who loves fixing bikes. The artwork is all black-and-white, no gray at all, the characters resembling old-fashioned, knob-headed clothespins, each with a unique hairstyle. Everyone is made of loose, straight lines, with black accents for messenger bags and seatbelts, night skies and roads. The road trip is the plot, complete with missed connections, a lost phone, hitchhiking, a rock concert and some magic mushrooms. A side plot focuses on Sophie’s companion and crush, Zena, maybe cool, but also a flake, whose obsession with shoplifting introduces most of the story’s tension. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? Setting aside the arresting artwork, I found The Contradictions underwhelming. Sophie tells us she’s queer and perhaps we’re meant to see her general awkwardness as part of her search for a comfortable identity, which includes her sexual orientation. But there’s no exploration of that question. She desperately needs some therapy — also never broached. Activities that would justify moving to Paris to study abroad (learning the language, visiting museums, living with a local family, etc.) are summarily dismissed by Sophie and especially Zena, so that the entire experience becomes an exercise in banality. Sophie seems quite privileged and watching the two young women spurn opportunities was depressing.

To whom would you recommend this book?  If your collection needs more moody, coming-of-age comics about college students, this could be of interest.

Who should buy this book? The language and experimentation with drugs make this suited for an adult audience. I think it would be of interest to college libraries. 

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 3, 2020

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