Losing the Girl is one of those books that has been on my to-read list for way to long, and I am very glad to have finally read it. It is the first of a trilogy, and it sets up a great many plot threads in both a compelling and moving manner. I knew vaguely that this was a book about adolescents and (maybe) some extraterrestrial hi-jinx, but it turned out to be so much more than some clever scifi romp.
The book is divided into five chapters, each one focusing on one of four teens who attend the same school. In the background of their stories is the disappearance of Claudia Jones, an honors student who attends their school. This disappearance is teased perhaps to be an alien abduction, but there is also a possibility it is linked to the presence of a homeless woman named CJ who appears around town. This mystery is secondary to the main plots, but it also provides a nice narrative through-line that builds suspense that should pay off in later books.
The first chapter is narrated by Nigel, an African-American boy who uses humor to compensate for his struggles with his parents' divorce. He cracks wise and flirts with a lot of girls.
He has a short relationship with Emily, who is the narrator of the second chapter. She is Asian-American, and after dating Nigel, she starts pursuing her dream-boy Brett. She has a lot of choices to make when she becomes pregnant, both in terms of her relationships and her future. The third chapter is about white boy Brett, who is not a stereotypical jock but harbors a secret artistic side and an unrequited crush. The fourth chapter focuses on Paula, who I believe is Latinx, Emily's friend who gets treated poorly by her overbearing boyfriend. She has to deal with a number of complicated emotions, and she makes some questionable choices of her own. The fifth chapter returns to Nigel for a quick coda that sets up the next book.
The power in this book lays in its character-work and its artful ways of communicating feelings and emotionally volatile scenes. The artwork subtly shifts in each chapter, to capture each character's sensibility and also create unique spaces for them. So much of this book relies on verbal communication and captions, not so much action, but it still flows incredibly smoothly. The artwork is simple looking and economical, but it packs a powerful dramatic wallop. Just check out this sequence:
Losing the Girl is a page-turner that features real-feeling characters who go through realistic, complicated events. I will definitely be reading the next two books in the Life on Earth trilogy.
This book was created by Marinaomi, an artist, scholar, podcaster, and activist who maintains multiple databases for cartoonists of color, disabled cartoonists, and queer cartoonists. She has created an array of comics in print and digital formats, including the Eisner Award-nominated Dragon's Breath and Other True Stories. She speaks about her career and works in this interview.
All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. J. Caleb Mozzocco wrote, "Deceptively simple-looking, this is a genuinely complex comics work." Rob Clough opined, "There are many familiar elements of teen romance here, to be sure, but MariNaomi approaches with a level of sophistication and humanity that's rare for any story of this kind." Kirkus Reviews summed up, "A moody, compassionate reflection of adolescence in turmoil."