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Review: ‘Becoming Brianna’

Cover of Becoming Brianna

Becoming Brianna
by Terri Libenson
Balzer + Bray, $12.99 (paperback), $22.99 (hardcover)
Ages 8-12

Terri Libenson’s latest in the Emmie & Friends series — after Invisible Emmie, Positively Izzy, and Just Jaime — follows the same model, alternating copiously illustrated diary sections with large-panel comics. In this case, the diary pages describe the past, while the comics show the present.

Brianna is Emmie’s best friend, and as we saw in Positively Izzy, she’s subject to stage fright. That makes what she’s doing more of a challenge for her — she’s celebrating her bat mitzvah. Her mother, who talked her into it, is more excited than she is, so Brianna is coping with learning Hebrew and writing a speech and all the other elements that go into the event while juggling family dynamics with her divorced parents.

Brianna and her family aren’t particularly religious, so she learns some of the meaning behind the ceremony as the reader does. She also has to decide who to invite to the party and cope with the resulting fissures in close relationships. How do you balance new friends and old? Can you disagree with a friend without harming the friendship?

The way these questions play out is believable and involving. The simply styled art keeps the reader comfortable and enhances knowledge of the feelings behind the events. Visual devices such as “jitter lines” for Brianna’s nerves, or the image of her as a statue being chipped away, bring home the emotional impact.

Covering eight months of events and 300 pages, this is a substantial read that remains approachable, with a lot of wisdom from friends, relatives, and mentors. It emphasizes the benefits of community, that it’s all right to have questions, and how value can be found in tradition in different ways for different people.

Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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