Hummingbird Heart: A Memoir by Travis Dandro. Drawn & Quarterly, 2022. 9781770465626
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3
Format: Paperback graphic novel
What did you like about the book? This introspective and truthful graphic memoir looks back at a sorrow-filled stretch in Dandro’s life as a teen. As the novel opens, Travis is reeling from the loss of his mostly absent father, caused by a drug overdose. Close on the heels of this tragedy comes his grandmother’s decline and eventual death from cancer. She’s a tough old bird, with a head that resembles a giant stalk of broccoli and Travis and his mom split her caretaking now that she’s bedridden. Emptying Grandma’s bed pan and colostomy bag requires all of Travis’s massive and loving heart; he’s so sleep deprived that we often see him nodding off in class. When his mom takes over, he’s released for short stretches, which he fills with an impromptu road trip to NYC, a job at a college cafeteria, a date with a cute girl, and a pumpkin-smashing prank with his buddies. The black-and-white artwork is textured and interesting, and the talk-bubbles don’t shy away from gross, teen banter or from frank and existential moments with Grandma. I especially enjoyed Travis’s frequent dream sequences, which sometimes took several pages to unravel and decode. Inanimate objects such as a grandfather clock, an elephant figurine, or an old painting, come to life periodically and reveal layers of sadness and loss. I liked the way Dandro was able to quickly convey plot points and background details with wordless panels (for example, the loss of his grandfather). Except for Travis’s friend Zung, all characters are White.
Anything you didn’t like about it? Although I enjoyed Dandro’s art, I often found it maddeningly difficult to identify characters or figure out exactly what was going on in the narrative, although this may be a matter of personal taste more than a deficit in the book. Other than Travis and his grandmother, other characters lacked depth, especially his mom, who remained a mystery.
To whom would you recommend this book? The main character is in high school, but I wondered if this age group would find the book appealing. It’s pretty depressing and Travis’s caretaking responsibilities feel heavy. On the plus side, I did appreciate seeing a teen boy be so tender and caring with an elder relative. An obvious read alike would be Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Dando is also a Massachusetts author, from the town of Leicester.
Who should buy this book? There’s quite a bit of salty language in the book, plus a tame but obvious dream sequence with a hot nurse, so I’d say it’s for high school or more likely, adult collections.
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: May 19, 2022