The world of LGBTQ+ literature—specifically fiction—has been growing over the past few years. Despite this, many of the selections available at your local bookstore focus solely on characters coming out and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. While these stories are very much needed, sometimes I just want to read a graphic novel about a woman down on her luck who finds a way to love herself after meeting a version of herself from the past . . . who just happens to be gay.
Enter Luisa: Now and Then, an adapted translation of a French graphic novel. Writer Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) teamed up with illustrator Carole Maurel (Waves) and translator Nanette McGuinness to bring the story to life for a new audience. The novel discusses common topics in the LGBTQ+ community—including homophobia and unrequited love—in a unique way that doesn’t foreshadow the moral of the story.
As its title suggests, the story is about a woman named Luisa. She’s 32 when we first meet her as the book begins, circa 2013. A wild turn of events leads her to meet the teenage Luisa of her past. The storyline reeled me in from the beginning, even though I didn’t quite understand what was going on at first. As I continued reading, the story reminded me of something out of Freaky Friday—but with a completely different twist (and no Lindsay Lohan). The lack of specificity in the opening scenes—and in some thereafter—kept me intrigued right along with the two Luisas as they began to realize what was happening.
The brains behind the book did a fantastic job weaving in some flashbacks of Luisa’s life with the current goings-on. The first of these flashbacks came in the early parts of the book, when teenage Luisa got her first kiss from a girl . . . and then got made fun of for it. The scene was presented in a way that was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I especially liked how the scene addressed the homophobia Luisa faced without making it the only thing we know about her—in any form.
The entire book is one big trip through time—from 1995 to 2013 and back again—as shown through the timers separating each chapter. I really liked that touch, as well as the contrasting color schemes in scenes with teenage Luisa and present-day Luisa. Both subtle hints made the book that much more pleasant of a read. And the scenes where both versions of Luisa met each other and realized that they’re the same person are absolutely beautiful.
The older, present-day Luisa becomes an unofficial aunt of sorts to teenage Luisa as the book goes on. Though the two have their share of bad moments, their relationship is so strong that you almost forget they’re the same person. There are a couple of points in the book where the older Luisa starts to really understand; one is where she’s telling a story and says “since I . . . we . . . were five . . .” Older Luisa wants nothing to do with teenage Luisa at first, so it was nice to see their relationship take this turn, even though they had some not-so-good moments together.
There are some mentions of the space-time continuum being broken throughout the book. Unlike most science-fiction reads out there, however, they’re presented in a way that makes them accessible to anyone. The authors made the time traveling a key part of the story, which made it that much more exciting to read.
They did the same thing with Luisa’s sexual orientation—and her possible love life. I knew that Luisa was into women, but the authors don’t make it obnoxious. And I love that. Luisa is depicted as a regular average thirty-something working at a boring, unfulfilling job just like many who might read Now and Then. The space-time continuum just happens to break and Luisa just happens to meet her teenage self because of it. And both versions of Luisa are into women. The latter trait is almost seen as an afterthought in the book (save for a few scenes, including one that’s a bit more risquė than I imagined), which is a nice change from the norm in queer literature.
Overall, Luisa: Now and Then is a quick but wonderful read that could serve as an introduction to the world of sci fi. The book also depicts queer life in a similar way; while it doesn’t hide the fact that its main character(s) is in the community, it also doesn’t put it in readers’ faces. The biggest thing I liked about this book, however, is the lesson of self-love and self-acceptance. That’s something we can all believe in.