In Limbo

First Second. Mar. 2023. 352p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250252654; pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781250252661.
Gr 8 Up–Lee’s powerful memoir explores coming of age as a Korean American teen in New Jersey. Deborah (Jung-Jin) was always a good student and first chair violin in her middle school orchestra. It’s shocking to her family when Deb barely passes her freshman courses and drops her instrument in favor of art, and Deb’s mom becomes increasingly verbally abusive as year one goes on. Deb perseveres, making it to sophomore year and her new elective art class, where she meets Quinn. Though they’re inseparable at first, Quinn soon becomes distant, and that heart-sickening gap, paired with isolation from her few other friends and her mom’s escalating verbal and physical abuse, contributes to Deb’s worsening mental health. After surviving a suicide attempt, Deb begins to work through her trauma in sessions with a therapist, revealing more of her past. Readers see how fraught her relationship is not just to her mother, but to her entire Korean heritage, from which she distanced herself steadily until even her first language was foreign to her. The microaggressions and overt aggressions depicted are painful, which makes the resolution, Deb’s return to South Korea and a tentative embrace of her culture, a cautious reconciliation. Filled primarily with digitally created grayscale artwork, Lee’s style has the feel of memory, with some images hazy and others sharp, the suicidal moments and abusive treatment from Deb’s mother fuzzing out and fading to black. Readers seeking realistic depictions of lived teen mental health experiences will find this beautiful work rewarding.
VERDICT Recommended for graphic nonfiction collections.

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