Review: Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American

messy roots

Title: Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American
Creators: Laura Gao
Genres: Comics, memoir
Pages: 272
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: “Messy Roots is a laugh-out-loud, heartfelt, and deeply engaging story of their journey to find themself–as an American, as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, as a queer person, and as a Wuhanese American in the middle of a pandemic.”–Malaka Gharib, author of I Was Their American Dream

After spending her early years in Wuhan, China, riding water buffalos and devouring stinky tofu, Laura immigrates to Texas, where her hometown is as foreign as Mars–at least until 2020, when COVID-19 makes Wuhan a household name. In Messy Roots, Laura illustrates her coming-of-age as the girl who simply wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why girls make her heart flutter.

Insightful, original, and hilarious, toggling seamlessly between past and present, China and America, Gao’s debut is a tour de force of graphic storytelling. 

Review: I was on a walk the other day, when I passed a bookstore window that featured a wall of copies of Messy Roots. I snapped a picture and texted it to my friend, telling her that she had to read it. And that’s what I’m about to tell you.

Messy Roots is a graphic memoir that follows Laura Gao as she grows up in Wuhan, China, moves to Texas, and eventually college. Along the way, her relationship with her roots and her identity grow and change. The title is apt in more ways than one.

The illustrations are gorgeous and vividly rendered, bringing to life Laura’s distant and recent past. She brings to the foreground her early childhood in Wuhan, showing the Wuhan that she knew as a child, one that has been cast in a different light during the pandemic. As a child of Taiwanese immigrants raised on Ranch 99 snacks and Chinese potlucks, my absolute favorite part of this graphic memoir was, naturally, the food — the familiar and mouthwatering dishes, and how they played a key role in the story. It made me want to go out and buy a bag of White Rabbit candy right away.

Messy Roots is a beautiful and skillfully delivered memoir. It’s a must-read for just about everyone, but I think it’ll especially resonate with queer children of immigrants. While our experiences are many and varied, I felt a tug of familiarity and comfort at seeing Laura’s journey, and how she navigated her relationship with her loved ones. That, above all else, is what made Messy Roots special to me. I hope you’ll pick up and read it.

Recommendation: Buy it now!