It’s hard to love your hair when people are constantly telling you it’s wrong, and in their new graphic novel Frizzy, Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra explore just that. The story centers on Marlene, a middle schooler who’d rather just focus on being a kid. However, her mother doesn’t make it easy when she brings Marlene to the salon every weekend to make her curly hair look “presentable.” But Marlene hates the salon and straightening her hair, struggling to understand why she can’t wear it naturally. So, she decides enough is enough and begins a journey to embrace her natural curls.
Frizzy is an immediate feast for the eyes as Bousamra’s art brings Ortega’s world to life. Their pastel color palette offers a vibrant and immersive reading experience. They give the spotlight to Marlene and other characters, but they take just as much care in the little details throughout. Though this is the first time readers meet Marlene, everything about Bousamra’s art just fits the character perfectly. The art and Ortega’s words also work in a harmonious tandem, both juxtaposing and holding similarities to one another. For readers who prefer or need more visuals over words, this graphic novel is perfect to keep them hooked.
Like their previous books, Ortega brilliantly breaks down the important messaging of the story in a way that young readers will understand without being made to feel dumb. They aptly and deeply examine the effects of discrimination, hair politics, and anti-Blackness. Between their words and Bousamra’s art, readers gain an understanding of why hair is such a big deal (in positive and negative ways). Ortega gives words to feelings that younger readers may not have yet. They also highlight the aforementioned topics in a way that allows non-Black and brown readers to receive more awareness about something they may or may not typically think about.
While the root of Marlene’s struggles lie in her hair, Ortega also emphasizes how it ties into one’s general self-esteem. Because of the stigma Marlene experiences around her hair, she believes she’s not good enough, period. She isn’t just going on a hair love journey, she’s also on a self-love journey. Moreover, readers see how Marlene’s mother passes on generations of beliefs surrounding hair onto Marlene; they both have a lot to unlearn. The story is very much about Marlene but providing context on her mother adds another thoughtful and important layer to the conversation. Bousamra’s art further supports this as they show readers how Marlene reacts to negative comments and bullying, placing Marlene’s emotions on full display.
From page 1, Marlene’s story was intensely relatable for me. Like her, I have an abundance of thick curls that took YEARS to even remotely like. I remember the rude comments and desperately straightening my hair every week or relying on harmful relaxers that destroyed my hair, just so it would look the way society deemed was nice and acceptable. Even now, I still have a tenuous relationship with my hair. It was tough to see Marlene go through those same struggles knowing firsthand how detrimental it can be. But it was also healing to go on that journey with her, to watch her learn how to embrace and love her natural curls and to see others affirm that.
Ortega and Bousamra are an incredible team that have brought something really special with Frizzy. Together they gift readers a story brimming with understanding and compassion that adds to an important facet of representation. They’re a mirror reflecting only good things back at readers who pick up this graphic novel. It’s emotional and charming and jubilant, and reading it feels like being wrapped in a warm, safe hug you don’t ever want to break. This is the kind of book I needed as a kid, and I’m so thrilled that young readers like Marlene have it now.
Frizzy is available now online and in stores.