Review of In Limbo

In Limbo In Limbo
by Deb JJ Lee; illus. by the author
High School    First Second    352 pp.
3/23    9781250252654    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781250252661    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781250322869    $11.99

Lee deftly chronicles their tumultuous high school years through elegant cartooning, presenting a difficult story with sincerity, compassion, and grace. An immigrant from Korea, Lee goes by Deb rather than Jung-Jin and feels like “a non-American…and a non-Korean. Forever in between.” Numerous examples of macro- and microaggressions both in high school and in flashbacks reinforce the anxious teenager’s sense of self-doubt; interactions with peers at Korean summer school are not much better. Further complications include a strained longterm friendship, stress over double-eyelid surgery, and conflict with an emotionally abusive mother. Although a new friendship serves as a source of stability, it eventually becomes unhealthily codependent. A suicide attempt leads to further exclusion by classmates, but through art, therapy, and self-forgiveness, Deb tenuously forges a path. Some Korean text is untranslated; brackets indicate English translations of Korean speech. The digital art is rendered entirely in matte gray-blue but never feels dull thanks to Lee’s use of photorealistic backgrounds, lighting effects, and intricate textures. Ambitious page layouts play a major storytelling role; Lee constantly shifts the size, shape, and arrangement of panels to control pacing, set tone, and guide readers’ eyes. Back matter includes an author’s note chronicling the graphic memoir’s development.

Pubissue-From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Patrick Gall
Patrick Gall works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago.

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