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Five questions for Mariko Tamaki

Photo: Shawnee Custalow.

Charismatic, too-cool Laura Dean is many things — but a good girlfriend is not one of them. Mariko Tamaki (author of Skim and This One Summer, both illustrated by Jillian Tamaki) and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s relatable, warm, and witty graphic novel Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me (Roaring Brook/First Second, 14 years and up) follows seventeen-year-old narrator Freddy Riley as she navigates her on-again-off-again-dumped-again relationship with Laura Dean with help from her supportive, queer-centric Berkeley community and an online advice columnist.

1. How did you know this was a graphic novel and not prose fiction?

MT: Its hard to say what makes something a graphic novel. Generally a book of mine ends up being a graphic novel because thats what Im pitching at the time! I do think theres something about the comic form that gives a story like this space — a level of being in the moment as opposed to describing or explaining it. Im very happy that this is a graphic novel, now that it exists as one. It feels like the only way to express this particular story. 

2. What was your collaboration with illustrator Rosemary Valero-O’Connell like?

MT: Rosemary is a dream to work with, and so passionate about her work. She came to the East Bay while she was working on the book, and we walked around the city. She noticed all these details about Berkeley I hadnt really thought of as part of the story. Berkeley is such a floral, fragrant, expressive place, and she captured that so well. She also makes such deep connections to the characters; we had a lot of discussions about them, which turned them into what you now see on the page. 

3. Was your high school friendship group anything like Freddys?

MT: I went to an all-girls private school, so no. I didnt have a big group of friends until I got to college, which is where I met my Buddys and my Erics, where I came out, and got more of a crew going. I did have many Doodle-type people in my life, and I think I was a bit of a Doodle when I was in high school. I spent a lot of time reading books and wishing that people would want to come over and craft and watch TV. 

4. Whats with peoples attraction to bad grrls? 

MT: Theres something attractive about people who are so confident, so sure of themselves. Its kind of intoxicating to have someone like that paying attention to you. I think its easy to put your own worth, your existence, into the hands of someone like that.  

5. What advice can you give to people going through a breakup?

MT: I dont think its always great to give advice in these situations. It’s good to give support. But if advice is offered before you’re ready for it, that can feel like someone telling you you’re wrong, that you’re messing up, which sometimes makes things feel worse. Obviously there are some exceptions and cases in which it might be important to do more than just stand by someone in a bad situation. In this story, by the time Freddy gets advice from Anna Vice, shes already there; shes looking for advice and ready to hear it. Most of the advice I would give is summed up in the book: try not to lose yourself, and if you do, go find you. 

From the June 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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