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The 2021 Top of the List Graphic Novel pick is And Now I Spill the Family Secrets, written and illustrated by Margaret Kimball, an investigation into her family’s history of mental health issues and a childhood that was shrouded in silence. With crisp grayscale illustrations of documents, photographs, and interiors, she reveals her findings on what her parents left unspoken and her relationship with her siblings, especially her older brother. These books, including fiction and nonfiction, graphic novels and prose, share similar themes of family secrets, digging into a family’s past, and issues of mental health.
Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home. By Nora Krug. 2018. Scribner, $20 (9781476796635).
Though Krug is researching a different sort of family history in this illustrated memoir—she’s struggling to find a sense of home and to understand her German family in the shadow of WWII—her use of documents, photos, and personal letters will appeal to those drawn to Kimball’s artistic style.
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. By Elyn Saks. 2007. Hyperion, $18.99 (9781401309442).
In this compelling prose memoir, Saks details the three lives she lead: as Elyn, as a professor of law, and as a woman dealing with psychotic episodes and suicidal fantasies. Eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, she recounts how she struggled to get off medication and to understand her limits, and advocated for the rights of the mentally ill.
Flying Couch. Written and illustrated by Amy Kurzweil. 2016. Black Balloon, $18.95 (9781936787289).
Kurzweil moves fluidly through her family history, including the story of her grandmother, who disguised herself as a gentile in Holocaust-era Poland, and through her own life, as she giggles at her grandmother’s antics and explores her own Jewish identity.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Written and illustrated by Alison Bechdel. 2006. Houghton, $17.99 (9780618871711).
Bechdel, like Kimball, grew up in a family surrounded by silence and secrets. Her now-classic graphic memoir details her relationship with her taciturn father and, when she comes to terms with her own lesbianism, her understanding of her father’s latent homosexuality as well.
The Grace of Silence. By Michele Norris. 2010. Pantheon, $16.95 (9780307475275).
Journalist Norris set out to write a book about race in America, but soon learned her own family’s conversations were shrouded in silence. In this powerful prose memoir, Norris uncovers secrets of her five-generation Minnesotan past, including her father’s shocking treatment after he returned from serving in WWII, and confronts the value of the silence surrounding those secrets.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. By Robert Kolker. 2020. Doubleday, $17 (9780525562641).
The Galvins presented as the perfect suburban family, but they were dealing with a secret: of the twelve Galvin children, six were diagnosed with schizophrenia. This prose nonfiction book explores the ways the Galvin parents struggled to maintain a facade of normalcy and looks at the history of the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness. Written and illustrated by Kristen Radtke. 2021. Pantheon, $30 (9781524748067).
Though Radtke’s work is wide-ranging in her exploration of the feeling of loneliness, she touches on personal stories that will appeal to those who enjoy Kimball’s work. Her crisp illustration style, like Kimball’s, hints at reality rather than directly representing it, making these books good visual companions as well.
The Waiting. Written and illustrated by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. Translated by Janet Hong. 2021. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (9781770464575).
As a graphic artist makes reluctant plans to move away from her aging mother, she furiously records her family history, a near century-long odyssey, marked by her mother losing her three-year-old son and husband as they fled from North to South Korea.
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