Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #140: Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

First love is never easy -- no matter who you are, no matter where you are. But when the people around you insist that love is wrong and evil -- that you're a bad and twisted person for even thinking that could be love -- it's infinitely worse.

Blue Is the Warmest Color -- it was a debut graphic novel by Julie Maroh, all soft watercolors to counter the harshness of the cruelties embodied in it, before it was an acclaimed film, so you may have heard this story before -- tells of one such first love. Clementine is a teenager, somewhere in France, in the mid-90s -- apparently the only child of grumpy intolerant parents -- studying hard to get through high school and into art school. [1] She has friends, even a boyfriend. But more important than all of that is the glimpse of a blue-haired young woman she saw briefly in the Main Square one day in October.

Because this is fiction, Clem meets that woman -- just a handful of years older than she is -- again, and that woman, Emma, is drawn to Clem as well. It's messier than that implies, of course: Emma has a long-term relationship with Sabine, her first girlfriend. And Clem's parents are very, very intolerant -- I'd like to say that they seem to be something out of an older time, or a less advanced country than France, but they're sadly and utterly plausible. Emma calls Clem hetero, as well, and it takes a long time before Clem really identifies as lesbian -- as someone who loves women, not just someone who loves Emma. But they love each other very much, and they can fight through all of those things, to find a life together.

We know from the very first pages that this is a tragedy; that Clem is now gone. We think the tragedy will have something to do with their relationship, or that time in the late '90s, or Clem's parents. But it doesn't: Maroh jumps eleven years near the end of this book, purely to rush into that tragedy, and she jumps over all of Clem and Emma's happy life together to do so. That's her choice as the storyteller, but it feels like a cheat, as if she's wallowing in all of the hard and bad moments of her story and then leaping over every time her characters might possibly be happy.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is a lovely story: lovely in its cool browns and blues, lovely in the careful way it makes these two very young women real people and their love fragile and strong and overwhelming and unstoppable. It may rush itself in the last quarter, but its heart is in the right place, and it tells a great story of young love and longing.

[1] This is a cliche, unfortunately: I'd love to see a gay coming-of-age story about a would-be accountant, a budding engineer, or a conflicted physicist. I'm sure those stories must exist, but all the ones I've seen center on people in the arts, as if no one else in the world ever felt that love, as if only artsy people ever "became" gay.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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