Glyn Dillon’s The Nao of Brown came out last year; I didn’t pick it up immediately because I’m not a huge fan of washing machines, and I’m here today to say: that was a mistake! Even if you do not like washing machines at all, you should check out this graphic novel.
On a more serious note: The Nao of Brown is a story about a half-English, half-Japanese girl named Nao Brown. She’s finding her way in her life as a young, not-quite-starving artist who occasionally works retail and tries not to be an emotional mess the rest of the time, with moderate success. Then she starts dating a guy, and things in her life start coming undone.
One of my favorite parts of this book is just how much of a mess Nao Brown is. There are so many books where either the protagonist is actually a mess (and you’re like, ‘how have you continued to be alive for this long without people tacking warning labels to you?’) or where everyone decides the protagonist is a mess and she actually isn’t (‘you had a suicidal thought as a teenager — let’s confine you to a mental institution!’). Nao doesn’t hit either end of this scale — she’s able to hold down an admittedly flexible job and make art and not be a terrible roommate to live with and have friends, so you are like, ‘you are not a psychopath and your head is messed up a completely reasonable amount!’ This is also nice because it means she’s not an entirely unsympathetic protagonist.
This is aided by the dialogue, which is generally great, and the art, which is lovely (and watercolor — my favorite!) — Nao looks just like how Glyn writes her — young, precariously emotional, trying really hard, and also like the huge fan of Japanese culture that she is. It’s wonderful how this graphic novel (which is like two hundred pages long and full color and must have taken forever to do) feels very much like it must have taken place now, in the present moment of 2013 — which is so hard to do for people who are not twenty and who are writing about people who are twenty — I feel like everyone has the tendency to slip into their own pasts when writing about specific ages that they are no longer at themselves.
The ending is also wonderful, and I will not spoil it for you, but! Just when you’re like, ‘Come on, Nao — seriously, you have to change your life because this does not seem to be a reasonably tenable situation for you,’ change is forced up on her.
In conclusion: this book! You should read it.