Written by O'Brian Gunn
Growing up, most of us wanted to avoid turning into our parents. But what if you wanted to avoid growing up into your older self? That’s the question Carole Maurel and Mariko Tamaki tackle in the graphic novel Luisa: Now and Then. In it, 32-year-old Luisa Arambol is working as a photographer in Paris when she gets a knock on the door from her 15-year-old self. What follows is a journey of both discovery and rediscovery, and the insight that comes from a different type of self-reflection.
Where Alex Robinson explored the idea of going back in time and inhabiting your younger self with your grownup mind still intact in Too Cool to Be Forgotten, Maurel heads to the same destination via a different route. Rather than reliving your teenage years all over again with the knowledge and wisdom you have now, how would you react to meeting your younger self in the present day? Would you both get along? Would you feel tempted to warn yourself of mistakes, heartache, turmoil, and the like you were once too young to recognize and avoid? Would just talking to your past self cause your present self to shift into something neither of you recognizes?
In Luisa’s case, she uses meeting her younger self as an opportunity to gain clarity on memories and mindsets muddled by the passing of time. The novel includes flashbacks that establish both Luisas and what brought them to their present circumstances. We see where a younger Luisa started to understand her sexuality, all while she struggled to understand why she wasn’t allowed to see her friend Lucy, whom she developed feelings for. Younger Luisa is disappointed by who (and what) she grows up to be, which is essentially someone who’s settled in life, both professionally and romantically. The rest of the story is an exploration of ghosts that have yet to be and those brought back to life through the ritual of repetition and rumination.
Overall, I enjoyed Luisa: Now and Then. The narrative fumbled a bit of its momentum in the middle, but it found its footing again toward the end. Both Past Luisa and Present Luisa have to reach back into their shared bloodline to truly make sense of their shared lives. Speaking of shared lives, I like how Maurel gave the story a sense of urgency by rapidly aging the younger Luisa and de-aging the older Luisa. There’s a risk of both disappearing into the other if they can’t work together to sort things out.
Something else I enjoyed was how Luisa’s sexuality wasn’t the sole focus of the story. True, it consumed a large portion of the narrative, but I felt it was never overbearing. Instead, Maurel chose to focus on how our heart’s desires play a part in shaping who we are and influencing the decisions we make. After all, who can say they didn’t learn more about themselves by being in a serious relationship, or even having deep, unreciprocated feelings for another person? There’s also the fact that those closest to us are impacted by our decisions and desires, which is something else that’s explored.
Luisa: Now and Then wraps up in a way that’s heartfelt and earned. No matter your age or sexuality, it’s a great exploration of what happens when we neglect to get to know and stay connected to ourselves and those closest to us. It’s a lesson on the razor-thin edge that divides now and then.
Page Length: 272 pgs
Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip: Buy used/on sale, or check with your local library.
Next Up: Superior, Mark Millar’s tale of 12-year-old Simon Pooni, who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and his transformation into the ultra-powerful superhero known as Superior. What happens when a pre-teen is given the powers of a legend, and will he have to go back to life in a wheelchair? The (unintended) exploration of the crossroads of adulthood and childhood continue next month.