Living with Viola

Annick. Oct. 2021. 272p. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781773215488; pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781773215495.
Gr 4-8–Olivia “Livy” Siu Leen Tong, a new student at Alison Berry Middle School, is achingly lonely. She has new friends, but they tease her for eating fried rice and salty fish, and she wonders what they’d say if they knew her father is a janitor and that she carries a stuffed unicorn in her backpack. At home Livy tries to be a dutiful Chinese daughter, but after her relatives visit from Hong Kong, the weight of their expectations almost crushes her, and she fears that her dream to become an artist would disappoint her family, much like her cousin Leonard’s mysterious moods, which resulted in him being sent to England. Stuck in her head, Livy struggles with feelings of anxiety, fear, and unworthiness that manifest themselves as Viola, an evil twin–like figure who affirms her destructive thoughts. This is an intimate and unforgettable work that focuses on themes of belonging and identity. Confronting mental illness in a perceptive, tangible way, Fung offers a visual window into Livy’s world; personifying her anxiety allows readers to understand Livy’s reality. Tones of reds and purples illustrate Livy’s varied emotions, and the crowded speech boxes give the book a suffocating feel.
VERDICT This deeply moving graphic novel will shake middle grade readers to the core and have them rooting for Livy. An essential purchase that illuminates the mental health issues with which many young people grapple.

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