Book Review: ‘Frizzy’ by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra

Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra is an excellent middle-grade graphic novel about hair positivity.

Sometimes, a piece of writing comes along at just the right time. Whether it lines up with a personal reckoning you’re having or speaks to a more significant societal issue, very few things beat that almost serendipitous alignment between whatever is going on and a good read. The upcoming release of Frizzy is one of those moments because the reckoning it is being released in has been a long time coming.

Frizzy tells the story of a young Afro-Latina named Marlene who absolutely despises going to the salon. She wants to embrace her big curls, but her mother, Paola, has been conditioned to believe that her curls are bad, and that consistently straightening them will make her appear more professional. Paola drags her daughter to the salon every Sunday, until one day, Marlene is fed up and decides she isn’t going anymore. This decision to rebel isn’t one she reaches haphazardly either, as Claribel Ortega writes the angst that we can all relate to as it comes to a pivotal moment in our development. Marlene begins by just doing what she’s told, but she’s always questioning why people have an issue with her curly hair. This line of questioning comes to a crescendo when she begins to be bullied at school.

The bullying is the usual kids-being-mean-to-other-kids stuff, but there is a tinge of racism mixed in that is deftly touched on by Ortega. It is as subtle as it is nefarious, and it very clearly starts to upset Marlene enough for her to wonder if her mother is right about her curls. It isn’t until she speaks to her Tia that she both realizes the pressure her mother has been under to be perfect and why she needs to break free from that. It is in Marlene’s support system, made up of her aforementioned Tia and her best friend Camellia, that she finds the strength to both stand up to her bullies and embrace who she is meant to be.

Ortega has written an amazing story that, as we enter a racial awakening for a lot of Afro-Latinx folks who are on their own racial journeys, will resonate with middle schoolers who see themselves in both Marlene and Camellia. Ortega captures both the rebellious streak we all possess when we are growing up, the desire to not disappoint our parents, and the need for acceptance and love at such a young age. She also does an incredible job of writing these characters with depth, and she especially deserves credit for writing Marlene’s mother Paola’s journey with the appreciation for her struggles. Paola’s growth in this story is one of my favorite things to see, as it mirrors what so many of my own friends have gone through with their natural hair and their parents.

Lastly, we can’t end this review without talking about the artwork. The decision to utilize vibrant colors mirrored that of the movie Encanto, which also dealt with similar themes about generational trauma. The graphics are vivid, and Rose Bousamra‘s color choices really made the story pop in a culturally-relevant fashion.

Frizzy is an excellent read about self-acceptance and growing pains. Give it a chance when it releases, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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