Saturday, January 22, 2011

graphic novel review: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

The basics: French Milk is the story of the month Lucy and her mother spent in Paris celebrating their 22nd and 50th birthdays, respectively. Lucy is an aspiring cartoonist, and she publishes her diary, which is essentially a graphic memoir.

My thoughts: I knew French Milk was a memoir when I started reading it, but I didn't realize it was in diary form. Perhaps some changes were made between its original writing and its subsequent publication, but there is a beautiful, raw honesty present that makes me think it is authentic. In many ways, Lucy is a typical 22-year-old. She misses her boyfriend. She gets homesick. She gets her period and gets really cranky. It's not an idyllic portrait of a vacation, and I love it even more for that. Knisley doesn't sugarcoat the parts of travel that are unfortunate.

Part of my enjoyment of this book is incredibly personal. I spent a month in 2004 (the year Lucy and her mother went to Paris) in France, Italy and Greece. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and reading tidbits about some of the same experiences was fantastic. Also, Lucy loves fancy food and wine as much as I do. Foie gras and French wine? Yes, please! So much of the book is about food, including its name, which signifies how much she loved the taste of real French milk.

Yes, Lucy and I are very close in age and had European adventures in 2004, but I do think this book's appeal is much deeper than the personal connections I formed with it. It's not a typical travel narrative or a typical graphic memoir. Knisley's cartoon drawing style is lovely, and I think the cover is a wonderful indication of its whimsy. She includes some real photographs too, a touch I particularly enjoyed. I appreciate the braveness it must have taken for Lucy to publish her travel diary. (I kept a public travel blog for my Europe trip, but I kept a very different personal journal.)

The verdict: French Milk is a delightfully honest and emotionally arresting graphic memoir of an intrepid and impressive young woman. Food and travel lovers, particularly those under 40, will delight in Lucy's experiences.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 208 pages
Publication date: October 14, 2008
Source: my local public library

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  1. I adored this one!! It was probably my favorite GN last year.

  2. I read my first graphic work last year; it was a memoir also, and I just loved it. I made a promise to myself to read more graphic books, and I am excited to hear about this one. Thanks for the recommendation :)


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