Book Review :: A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings by Will Betke-Brunswick
In a Friday Night Comics session for Sequential Artists Workshop, Will Betke-Brunswick explains that using birds as characters allows an “access point into emotional-heavy material,” and even though advised by a mentor “not to do birds,” Will says, “I feel connected to birds.” There is no doubt readers will also develop a connection, if not immediately, then over the course of topics covered in the graphic memoir A Pros and Cons List For Strong Feelings. These topics include Will’s mother being diagnosed with terminal cancer during Will’s sophomore year of college and going through treatments as well as Will’s coming out as genderqueer. There are flashbacks to Will’s youth, sharing thoughtfully tender and supportive moments, like when Will’s mother creates math problems for them to solve on the school bus to alleviate anxiety and when she writes a note for Will’s school when picture day rolls around to say it’s okay for them to wear a hat. It’s easy to sort Will’s family of characters, all represented as penguins, from other characters: buzzards, quails, parrots, toucans, and more. Betke-Brunswick uses line drawings with some fill, minimalist backgrounds, just two colors throughout, and varying framed and frameless compositions to express events, which include observational humor and situational poignancy. This is the kind of memoir that offers brief but deeply intimate and sometimes discomfortingly honest glimpses into someone’s life. In the same way Betke-Brunswick expresses feeling connected to birds, readers will develop their own connection to humanity through these feathered depictions.
A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings: A Graphic Memoir by Will Betke-Brunswick. Tin House Books, November 2022.
Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.