Guts by Raina Telgemeier
Uber-talented Raina Telgemeier has done it again. She has created a companion volume to her endearing and enduring classics Smile and Sisters. Guts is also autobiographical. It recounts Telgemeier’s bouts with stress and the mental, social, and emotional costs of anxiety. This may be her most personal book to date, detailing her childhood panic attacks, phobias, and anxiety. She opens up about the distress that she experienced and her body's responses to these fears.
Beginning in the fourth grade, Raina begins worrying about vomiting, an experience that assaults all of the senses: sight, sound, taste, and smell. The possibility of throwing up, even hearing the word vomit becomes a trigger, sending her to the bathroom.
Stress-provoking factors multiply. They include crowded living conditions, fear of speaking in public, the possibility of contracting the flu, and eating contaminated food. The result: this young girl spends her days and nights in a state of continual turmoil.
Fortunately, her mother suggests therapy and arranges for Raina to meet with a professional who helps her work through her issues. Together they plan ways that she can anticipate anxiety triggers and deal effectively with her angst. She eventually reaches the point where she can share her coping techniques with others. She is amazed to learn that she is not alone. Others have health-related problems. Others find therapy helpful.
Raina brilliantly uses the graphic novel format to tell her story. She knows when to over-fill a panel or page with people and actions, reinforcing her suffocating claustrophic feelings. Panel placement is an integral part of the story, at times horizontal bands move from the top of the bottom of the page. Full page panels set the scene and provide important background information. A full page is a significant statement which invites readers to pause. One of my favorites is the full-page image of her sneakers. As readers pause to consider what it feels like to look down at shoes and become "grounded" they can experience the value of this technique.
Facial expressions and body language are a hallmark of her work. She effectively captures fear, frustration, and eventually, self-confidence.
Panels which are predominantly green signal her moments of extreme distress. A swirling mass of worry and doubt encircle Raina in various shades of green.
Thanks Raina. It takes courage to relive painful childhood experiences. It takes talent to accurately record your experiences in comic format. It takes empathy to share your journey through dark moments with young readers. It takes intention to seek help through therapy.
You are a woman of courage, talent, empathy, and guts.
Readers are fortunate that their beloved author has shared her story.