Award-winning British children's author/illustrator Lizzy Stewart makes an impressive adult graphic debut with interlinked short episodes observing, analyzing and celebrating women's friendships. The nine chapters in It's Not What You Thought It Would Be could each stand alone, but Stewart cleverly relies on shades of orange to signal narrative connections that, combined, reveal a story of two friends from inseparable childhood to youthful estrangement to exuberant reunion.
The opening chapter, "Heavy Air," introduces the first of two girls anticipating great change: "there is a new world and it is completely different." Best-friendship happens as Stewart introduces the girls together in close-up, expression-filled panels in "Dog Walk": one is teased for being "sensible," the other wants to embody "cool." Five years later, in "A Quick Catch-Up," the girls have matured into young adults--one stayed home, the other got out; Stewart amplifies their fraying relationship with intense hues on rougher surfaces. The friend-who-left reappears--Stewart garbs her in orange for easy recognition--in the titular "It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be," which follows the lives of three close London women. Eight silent years follow the uncomfortable catch-up, until the ex-bffs reconnect in "The Wedding Guests." In between the friends' evolving relationship, Stewart inserts four interstitial interludes that read like gentle reminders--for her characters and readers both--to look out and beyond.
Each chapter is an experiment in presentation: POV shifts from first-person to omniscient, brushwork fluid to exacting, panels simplified to detailed. Yet Stewart's reliable orange palette keeps her girls-to-women narrative readily discernible. Her compassionate depictions of women alone, women together, will undoubtedly find welcoming audiences. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon