Graphic Novel Review: Flamer by Mike Curato

I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both. I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel…unsafe.

It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.

You may recognize the name of author and illustrator Mike Curator as the creator of the beloved Little Elliot series of picture books, as well as Worm Loves Worm (written by J.J. Austrian). Flamer is not only the debut graphic novel (and YA debut) of Curato’s, but also a title that has been on the receiving end of tremendous acclaim and multiple starred reviews since its fall release. An incredibly powerful, wrenching, beautiful graphic novel that draws on aspects of Curato’s own experiences growing up, Flamer is not to be missed.

Spending the summer at Boy Scouts Camp, fourteen-year-old Aiden Navarro is walking multiple tightropes. Harassed due his being biracial, sensitive about his weight, and troubled by consistent, pressing thoughts and questions about his sexuality (amongst a group of teens and environment where homophobia and homophobic aggressions are depicted as the norm), Aiden feels intense pressure. And confusion. And self-disgust. While attempting to appear ‘normal’- I.e. heterosexual- for his own sanity, and for the benefit of his Scouts troop, Aiden can’t help but think about, wonder about, and dream about his most reliable Scout friend Elias. But…being gay is unacceptable…isn’t it? Aiden can’t be…isn’t gay, right? He can’t be gay if his religion dictates it a sin, right? …So why can’t his thinking about Elias just stop?

A starred review from Booklist noted that Flamer is exemplary in its ‘nuanced’, ‘visual storytelling’, and I wholeheartedly agree. The graphic novel is predominantly in black and white, with unmissable red, orange, fiery tones reserved for the most emotional, combustible moments and scenes. Characters and dialogue are illustrated by thicker defined charcoal-like lines. The rawness of Aiden – his expressions, his drifts into memory and fantasy, his confrontations (with himself and with others), his immediate thoughts, and lengthier dialogues are at the center of the story here.

A story that tells of hatred, of internalized homophobia, of rampant external homophobia, of religious confusion and reckoning, as well as contemplation of death, Flamer is never easy, but it is necessary. It should also be stressed and noted, readers, that Flamer is ultimately a story of finding hope, self-acceptance, and possibility. Sure to affect and long linger in the minds of readers, Flamer is a superb graphic novel. Extras: For more on Flamer, take the time to read this post by Mike Curato. You can also download a discussion guide available via the author-illustrator’s website

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Reference & Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

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