The best graphic fiction and nonfiction of fall 2023

It’s spring break in 2009. Childhood best friends Dani and Zoe are freshmen in college, and are finally spending a week in New York City like they’ve always dreamed. Accompanying Dani is her classmate Fiona, a cigarette-smoking, tragically hip art student whose uninhibited and self-possessed attitude attracts Zoe immediately.

Dani wants to do classic tourist things: eat pizza and see Coney Island, Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. But Fiona, who has been to New York many times, scoffs at the mere mention of tourism, instead suggesting they see “real” neighborhoods. Zoe, caught in the middle but unable to deny Fiona’s magnetic coolness, agrees. As the trio navigates a late-aughts New York with spotty cell service and tenuous personal connections, they will each have to reckon with something—whether it’s each other or something within themselves.

Roaming, cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s first graphic novel collaboration for an adult audience, is a slice-of-life story about growing up and growing apart, being on the cusp of adulthood and exploring an unfamiliar city. The characters and their experiences hit hard because of how incredibly real they feel; despite the intrinsic brevity of the format, Dani, Fiona and Zoe are fully fleshed out.

As a duo, the Tamakis possess a talent for crafting stories of immense substance out of small, zoomed-in moments. Because of their specificity, these micro-stories speak to a much broader macro-story: Almost everyone knows a Fiona, has been a Zoe or has become frustrated with the hesitance of the Dani in their life.

Jillian’s color palettes are typically spare and minimal, relying on thick black lines and one or two pastels—for This One Summer, a light, muted indigo; for Roaming, swaths of periwinkle, peach and white. The palette places a gauzy haze over the story’s heaviness, much like the function of memory itself.

Roaming is about young adults, new to being on their own and easy to see as naive. But the magic of the book is that it will speak to the 18-year-old in every reader—whether they’re just out of college or at retirement age. Some things, no matter how much time has passed, never change.

Literature

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