Book Review: A Pros and Cons List For Strong Feelings by Will Betke-Brunswick
A Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Best Book of Fall
“Filled with moments of tenderness and humor.” —Library Journal, Starred Review
An unexpected and poignant debut graphic memoir about a close-knit family approaching loss, and the wonder and joy they create along the way.
During Will Betke-Brunswick’s sophomore year of college, their beloved mother, Elizabeth, is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. They only have ten more months together, which Will documents in evocative two-color illustrations. But as we follow Will and their mom through chemo and hospital visits, their time together is buoyed by laughter, jigsaw puzzles, modern art, and vegan BLTs. In a delightful twist, Will portrays their family as penguins, and their friends are cast as a menagerie of birds. In between therapy and bedside chats, they navigate uniquely human challenges, as Will prepares for math exams, comes out as genderqueer, and negotiates familial tension.
A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings is an act of loving others and loving oneself, offering a story of coming-of-age, illness, death, and life that announces the arrival of a talented storyteller in Will Betke-Brunswick. At its heart, Will’s story is a celebration of a mother-child relationship filled with unconditional devotion, humor, care, and openness.
Here’s what I wasn’t sure would work for me in this book: the characters being all birds and the timeline being non-linear. Here’s what I ended up loving in this book: the characters being all birds and the time being non-linear. Somehow both things make this book on loss and grief and navigating gender identity easier to read (in the sense of how heavy the material is and how sad the loss/grief parts feel) and even more affecting (the timeline piece because it fleshes out so much more of the relationships and the animal piece because… well, I’m not sure why, but I just found all those birds so dear and fragile).
This short book is so tender and full of love. Even though the entire story is about loss and all that comes with it, it still somehow managed to feel hopeful and like this loss is just an unavoidable part of life. It even had small humorous moments that, as a person who leaned a lot on humor when I lost a parent, I found so real. My only complaint? I wanted more pros and cons lists. The present portion of the story takes place while the main character, who is genderqueer, is in college, so this is best for older readers.
A moving read for when you want to dig down into the sadness.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Tin House Books
Publication date: 11/15/2022
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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