Marlene dreads Sundays, when she and her mom, Paola, spend most of the day at the salon undergoing the excruciating (and excruciatingly boring) ritual of getting their hair straightened. Marlene, who is Dominican American, has an imagination as vivid and untameable as her naturally curly hair, so she survives each week’s torture session by imagining herself as the star of her favorite show, “Super Amigas,” with her stylist as a supervillain.
But Marlene’s creativity is no match for the hurtful comments that her relatives make about her cousin Diana’s “good hair,” which is showcased in all its glossy glory at Diana’s quinceañera. And unlike on “Super Amigas,” there’s no way for Marlene to win this battle. After encouragement from her best friend, Camilla, and a little help from a YouTube tutorial, Marlene decides to wear her natural hair to school, but she gets ruthlessly bullied by her classmates and punished by her mom. How can Marlene be proud of who she is if everyone around her constantly makes her feel imperfect?
For her first graphic novel, Claribel A. Ortega, the bestselling author of Ghost Squad and the Witchlings series, is joined by debut artist Rose Bousamra. The result is a spirited story of a girl’s quest to embrace who she is. Bousamra’s artwork skillfully portrays lively city scenes and cozy interiors alike. They use a palette of roses, plums and soft teals to play perfectly off the warm brown and russet tones of Marlene’s skin and hair. Scenes pulled from Marlene’s imagination break through panel outlines, reinforcing her exuberance and growing frustrations.
Frizzy is an intimate mother-daughter drama that sensitively explores the concept of so-called “good hair,” a manifestation of racist beauty standards, as well as how such internalized anti-Blackness gets passed down through generations. Eager to value her unique identity, Marlene eventually learns how to advocate for herself, and her journey to proud self-acceptance is nothing short of joyful. In the end, readers are left to imagine what new weekly adventures Marlene and her mom might discover together, outside the stifling walls of the salon.