Review by New York Times Review
YOU KNOW WHEN you have a book report due but you're not sure you completely understood the nuances of the book and you feel stupid and doubt yourself entirely and panic a little and you have to admit to Mrs. Johnson that it's wonderfully written but you just aren't smart enough to understand what the hell is going on in "Finnegans Wake"? That's exactly what happened to me with Liana Finck's graphic memoir "Passing for Human." Except that the self-doubt ended up being an entirely fitting emotion for confronting this book. At first I focused on the illustration and design and considered using pretentioussounding words to try to sound like I knew about art. Then I settled on exploring the idea of otherness and its impact on the human psyche. Then I drew a picture of me eating a spaghetti sandwich because I was hungry. None of it was right. I tore up all these attempts and started from scratch: "Passing for Human" is a graphic work - Finck's second, after her earlier "ABintel Brief." It is drawn in a straightforward pen-and-ink style but each simple drawing captures such raw emotion. It's wonderfully intimate, like reading someone's diary. And in a way that's what it is. It tells the story of the artist's search for her lost shadow. The first time I flipped through the book I wasn't sure what that shadow represented: alienation, regret, creative angst, self-doubt? I read it again. Finek tells the story of her life, beginning with her mother, who had a similar shadow that she lost and found. Her mother's shadow speaks to her but is sent away and returns during her struggle to find love and fulfillment in spite of her anxiety about her own strangeness. Finek writes beautifully of this struggle but is suddenly beset with selfdoubt that gnaws at her in the form of literal rats. She listens to the fear. She tears up the story. She starts the book again but this time focusing on her father, a man who struggled with feelings of otherness, of the fear of being discovered for what he is... a weirdo. It's all so poignantly relatable that it makes me a little achy. But the rats of selfdoubt return. Finek rips it up again. She starts over with her childhood. She starts over with her love life. She starts over with her shadow. Again and again she destroys her work, and herself, even though it's all exactly perfect. I could recognize my own struggles with being a creative misfit as each chapter revealed itself (and was destroyed). Each section exposed more about the things we do to cut ourselves off from the frightening strangeness that makes us who we are, and how terrifyingly vulnerable it can feel to reveal that difference to the world. What is the shadow? It holds us back, it pushes us forward. It hurts and it helps. I think perhaps it means something different to each reader, as good art should. To me, however, the shadow wasn't as important as what made the shadow. In every chapter the characters run up against the same fear of otherness that so many of us feel - the anxiety born of the knowledge that we are somehow "different," the terror that accompanies the idea that we are alien and will be misunderstood or outed as broken. Yet that same sense of our own aberration is the very thing that makes us special, needed, that makes our voices unique. It is the light that shines inside us. And if you let your extraordinary light shine you will cast a shadow, a dark pool of fear that goes hand in hand with courage. Perhaps the shadowy fear is there not as a warning to dim your strangeness, but as proof that your inner light is shining like a beacon in spite of the fear. And that's a good thing. We need beacons to draw us onward. Finek writes: "A draw-er doesn't draw because she loves to draw. She doesn't draw because she draws well. She draws because once, she lost something. And by drawing, she will find it again." I believe with this book she found it. And she found me as well. In the light. And in the shadows. JENNY LAWSON is the author of "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" and "Furiously Happy."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 30, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review
For her imaginative coming-of-age memoir, graphic novelist and New Yorker cartoonist Finck (A Bintel Brief, 2014) has changed some names, including her own. Starting anew, with a brand-new title page several times throughout the book, Leola wonders what story to tell and how best to tell it. Early on, she introduces the concept of her shadow, a companion who guided her before disappearing when she was a preteen. Should she begin with her mother, who taught her daughter the benefits of shadow-companionship, or her father, who passed his unique weirdness directly on to her? Finck takes full advantage of the format. Her narration, in wavery all-caps, propels her memoir as her shaky, light line drawings, sometimes simplified to near abstraction, translate another, otherwise untranslatable dimension of her story. She gathers biblical history and elements of fantasy (those shadows included) into the fold, too, and yet manages a restrained style overall. A sure hit for readers of graphic memoirs, this explores feeling different while recognizing sameness in others and making art while embracing being a work-in-progress oneself.--Annie Bostrom Copyright 2018 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Alienation is both blessing and curse in this elegant graphic memoir of being the odd woman out. Leola's family has always been strange-quiet, anxious, prone to dreaming. Though this propelled her parents into successful careers as an architect and a doctor, Leola wears her oddity like a ball and chain. She shies away from other children and finds herself exiled from classroom hierarchies. In metanarrative interludes, Leola even restarts the book itself, plagued with doubt over its quality. But as she discovers, being different doesn't just drive you away from others-it can lead you to authenticity, as well. Finck intertwines her jittery, dense line work with fairy tale whimsy: sentient shadows climb in through windows, anxieties are literal rats that nibble at her as she works, God is a queen on a cloud who presides over an Edenic stage set. Though a lesser artist might have leaned on such magical realism as a crutch, Finck's whimsy acts as a microscope to better understand family, romance, and isolation. This story is as tender as it is wry, depicting, for instance, despair with goofy drawings of robots and princesses. Becoming human is a lifelong task-but Finck illustrates it with humor and panache. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, DeFiore and Co. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
While the author herself would not necessarily call this story a hero's journey, this part bildungsroman, part epic poem describes the emotional and physical quest of New Yorker columnist/cartoonist Finck (A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York) and generations of her family as they grapple with their individual beauty, creativity, and melancholy through the lens of a creation myth. Expanding her typical two-color illustration style to three-black, white, and a stunningly brilliant and graceful yellow-Finck conveys an honest meditation of her own strangeness, the beginnings of humans and the world, artistry, and intimacy with others. Readers may feel almost invasive as they bear witness to her exploration of her most vulnerable corners and pockets and those of her family, but that is her plan. She is the hero of this work on discovering selfhood-but in a deeply human way. VERDICT This creative and cerebral memoir, both in narrative and artwork, will appeal to similarly minded readers and fans of illustrator Maira Kalman. [Previewed in Jody Osicki's "Graphically Speaking," LJ 6/15/18.]-Cassidy Charles, Santa Barbara P.L., CA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A graphic memoir turns the search for identity inside out as it illuminates the creative process.This multilayered narrative might best be categorized as a "meta-memoir," a memoir about the writing of this memoir. New Yorker cartoonist Finck (A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York, 2014) struggles to achieve cohesion and coherence within a story that remains something of a muddle for her. The artist within the narrative dubs this "a neurological coming-of-age story," as she attempts to account for her lifelong feelings of "otherness" or "weirdness" and writes of losing her own shadow, which gave her some perspective on her life and some meaning to it. So she tries to keep returning to the beginning, with each chapter labeled "Chapter One" in a work-in-progress titled "Passing for Human," something that the artistor the artist drawn by the authorapparently feels she hasn't done very well. Finck begins one version of this narrative with her mother, another with her father, and a couple with a soulmate who keeps on disappearing. Preceding each fresh start is an epigramfrom the likes of Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson et al.and within many of them is an earlier creation story, a myth, or a Bible story, one that might connect to her experiences. All of this continues to swirl through the artist's head, reducing her art to a scrawl and her consciousness to a mess of darknessuntil the epiphany, when the art itself becomes luminous, as the pages turn from white to black and the lines on them from black to white, and the artist has transcended, her "fears, unarticulated [which] gnaw at her like rats."In its ambition, framing, and multiple layers, this raises the bar for graphic narrative. Even fans of her work in the New Yorker will be blindsided by this outstanding book. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.