Book Review: Guts, by Raina Telgemeier

Raina Telgemeier

Guts, Raina Telgemeier, Scholastic, 2019

 

From the Publisher: Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?

Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face — and conquer — her fears.

 

I was a sickly kid.

If I’d been raised in Edwardian times, I probably would have been confined to my bedchamber, away from draughts, with only my orphan cousin and a view of a secret garden to get me through the interminable days.

I suffered from all sorts of ailments, from migraines to hayfever, and caught every cold going around. But the site of worst calamity was my stomach. So many photographs from my childhood show me with a hand protectively on my belly, as if holding it would soothe the monsters within.

Nothing soothed the monsters within. Not bland food, not going vegetarian. Not rest, not medication. Eventually, I was diagnosed as hypochondriac and sent on my not-so-merry way. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I was finally diagnosed with both coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome – both illnesses exacerbated by gluten. Which made me feel irrationally furious at the doctor who advised a diet of pasta and plain toast to soothe my unruly gut.

That is, until I realised he was probably just doing his best, like we all are, with the information we’re given. And, when you’re a kid, sometimes that information isn’t as comprehensive as it needs to be. Sometimes, all you can say is, “I feel bad”.

I still “feel bad”, quite often, but it’s nowhere near the abject misery of my young years.

I found so much I recognised in Raina Telgemeier’s brilliant, award-winning autobiographical comic, Guts.

Guts is a vignette about Telgemeier’s childhood struggles with anxiety-related stomach upsets and emetophobia (a term I had never heard of. Squeamish people look away: it basically means a fear of vomiting), sparked by a bout of food poisoning. Young Raina, with all her worries, friendship struggles and her ever-present nausea (and fear of what might happen as a result of that nausea), could have been me.

Telgemeier’s warmth and affection for her young self is clear, and her unflinching honesty is a breath of fresh air. I adore her illustration style and the fact that so much is shown outside of the text. I especially liked the way Raina’s nausea was depicted, through green and pastel tones and wobbly lines.

I love Raina’s supportive family and I love her realistic depictions of friends and frenemies at this tricky “tween” age. The background cast of the story is very diverse, which was lovely to see – every kid will find someone to identify among the characters.

My daughter is showing signs of her own anxiety and I will be enthusiastically sharing this book with her in the next year or two. I believe it will be an incredibly useful aid for children and their parents and teachers, to talk about anxiety in a light and hopeful way.

Like so many books, I wish I’d had Guts when I was young. Back then, I thought I was alone. Now, I am glad I can show my daughter that she’s not on her own in feeling anxious. In fact, among talented creators like Raina Telgemeier, she’s in incredibly good company.

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