Are You Listening?

First Second. Sept. 2019. 320p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781626727731; pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781250207562.
Gr 9 Up–“When something horrible happens, or something amazing…it makes you feel like mountains could shatter, or the sky could disappear.” Eighteen-year-old Bea is on the run. Life at home has become more dangerous than attempting to make it in the world alone. After missing her bus, she is connected with Lou, a family acquaintance who invites Bea to hitch a ride with her out of town. Inside the intimate confines of Lou’s car, the tension between the two is palpable, as neither wishes to explain her reasons for leaving town. But they soon discover a lost cat and resolve to return it home to a town in Texas that isn’t on the map. As the two travel across the mystical landscape of West Texas, truths as harsh and stark as the Texas terrain come to light. Walden deftly explores weighty subjects within the deceptively simple road trip narrative; Bea’s experiences with sexual assault by a family member are revealed, with Walden’s surreal artwork and lettering reflecting Bea’s distraught, disoriented feelings.
VERDICT While the story suffers from inconsistent pacing heightened by the ambiguity of both characters’ backstories, the combination of real-life trauma with magical realism makes this tale of queer friendship, healing, and rebuilding in the wake of pain and anguish an important addition to collections.

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