Farai has been in a relationship for two years and has never met her partner’s parents. Until this weekend.
Farai has finally persuaded Adam to introduce her to his parents, but the visit to the in-laws turns out to be a horrible experience for her. She starts to feel uneasy and ostracised. When confronted about this experience Adam tries to play down the situation and does not show any understanding for his partner’s concerns. Then things get a whole lot worse and Farai has to question if she can be with a man whose family does not accept her and who is not willing to face the difficulties related to an interracial relationship.
Examining contemporary issues of race, bigotry and the difficulties that interracial couples face, What We Don’t Talk About is an exciting debut from a burgeoning talent and important new voice in graphic fiction.
It has been a while since I read a graphic novel and then immediately read it again. What We Don’t Talk About is the gift that keeps on giving; every time I pick it up and flick to a page I spot something new in the writing or dialogue. Whilst reading this wonderful book, I made (literally) pages of notes and found myself turning the story over in my head long after putting it down.
As a reader, you walk with Farai and only see what she sees but you have the benefit of seeing the whole picture. You hear what the other characters say and how they behave, even down to their body language (the beauty of the graphic novel!). Even though I knew from the blurb what the book is about I tried to not make any assumptions so I could relate more to Farai’s experience, particularly at the start when she thinks something is wrong but tries to give Adam and his family the benefit of the doubt.
What I particularly loved about this book is the character development and depiction. This isn’t an essay (oh, how I wish it were) so I’ll just give my favourite example – Adam’s father, Charles. Charles is always in the background is not at the front of any scene. Even the graphic descriptions of him are fairly hazy and not particularly detailed. This means that the bulk of the focus is on Martha, Adam’s mother, who behaves despicably towards Farai. The reason why this is particularly clever is because if you examine Charles and his dialogue more closely, he is equally as guilty of bigotry and racism as Martha. Martha is just easier to hate as she’s the primary aggressor towards Farai. This example is not alone and it is these subtleties that make this book exceptional.
I think it was on my second reading that it struck me that Kristensen chose a common example of racism and bigotry for her story. The disgusting comments made about Farai’s heritage, culture, education (and that of her parents) are made every single day. There are also vile comments made about other ethnic groups and refugees which some media outlets happily portray as being ‘terrorists’ and ‘living off the state’. This is not something rare or exceptional – for many people, it is a daily occurrence.
And this, in conclusion, is what makes Farai as a character (and thereby this book) so damn important. She says ‘enough‘. She tries to educate, and then challenges, and ultimately says ‘no more, I am done with you‘. She is empowered and has agency, and I bloody love her.
Buy this book for everyone you know. Put it in schools and libraries. It is for everyone. Some people will see themselves in Farai, and if other people were truly honest with themselves they may see a little bit of themselves in Martha, Charles, or Adam. Oh yes, and the graphics are wonderful too! If you read it, keep an eye on the weather – things get a bit stormy…
This book is a triumph. Charlot Kristensen should be incredibly proud.
Many thanks to Avery Hill Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
You can support your local bookshop by buying What We Don’t Talk About through them directly, or via Hive.
What do you think of What We Don’t Talk About? Will you be reading it? Let me know in the comments below.
Wishing you a wonderfully bookish week,