In chunky lines and charmingly chaotic frames, debut author Ebony Flowers uses the comic format to explore the vital and myriad ways that the experience of young black women is tied to their relationship with their hair. Across the eight short stories that make up Hot Comb, Flowers illustrates the profusion of cultural forces young black girls must contend with: peer pressure, white beauty standards, well-meaning strangers, not-so-well-meaning strangers and, perhaps most interestingly, advertisements. Throughout, Flowers makes clear the ways in which the success of the black hair industry depends on the malleability of adolescent self-image and thrives on the insecurities of black children and teenagers. In recognition of this, Flowers ends each story with a powerful editorial insertion: a brand-new advertisement that draws from distinctly black cultural imagery to celebrate black hair as it is.
In Hot Comb, black hair proves to be a rich symbol for interpreting the insidious politics of race and class that play out each day in the lives of black Americans. Flowers's stories do not attempt to mask the harshness of poverty and racism, and they do not romanticize hardship. What Hot Comb does instead is celebrate the devotion of black mothers, the creativity of black children and the ingenuity inherent in the black experience. This is a deeply impressive debut and belongs on the bookshelf between Lynda Barry and Claudia Rankine. Ebony Flowers is a cartoonist to watch. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness