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Monday, August 07, 2023

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Cartoonist Pens Gut-Wrenching, Powerful Graphic Memoir

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Once I started reading The Talk, a graphic memoir by Darrin Bell, I couldn't put it down and it's a heavy book—in more ways than one. The title refers to the vital discussion parents must have with their Black children about racism. For boys, especially, this includes instructions on how to act calm, respectful, and non-threatening in any confrontations they have with the police, no matter how unfair or ridiculous the situation might be. Bell, who is bi-racial, was raised in East Los Angeles in the '80s and '90s by his white mother. His parents were divorced, his Black father largely absent from his life, so it was his mom who explained how things were for people with Darrin's skin color. The talk was prompted by the 6-year-old's request for a squirt gun, a plea that ended in his acquisition of a neon green toy that (despite his mother's warning) led to a terrifying run-in with a police officer that deeply traumatized the little boy. 

As the book explains, Bell continued to experience acts of blatant racism as he grew up, including being shadowed while shopping, getting shut down by teachers, name-calling from his peers, accusations of plagiarism, profiling by police, and more. He sought solace and escape in his art, where he found his voice as a political cartoonist/satirist. His pointed, provocative, and often controversial ruminations on politics, injustice, prejudice, racism, and more have earned him both accolades and death threats over the years. In 2019, he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, the first Black person to do so. 

It's easy to see why Bell's work has earned so much attention. The illustrations in The Talk are top-notch, loose but also vivid and compelling. No less so are his words, which pair with his pictures to create an immensely powerful story. For me—the white mother of an adopted, bi-racial child—the most poignant, heart-wrenching chapter in the book is the final one, in which Bell's 6-year-old son asks his dad about George Floyd. Not having planned to deliver "the talk" until the boy is a bit older, Bell is forced to shatter his child's innocence by talking about the hard truths of living while Black. It's excruciating to read, especially since, in the cartoon face of Bell's child, I see mine. 

The Talk is many things: raw, angry, gut-wrenching, timely, impactful, and, yes, hopeful. Surprisingly, it's also funny in parts. I laughed out loud when Bell recalled his mom marching to his school in her bathrobe and curlers to confront the principal. Embarrassed, he pled, "Mom? Couldn't you at least get dressed before ruining my whole life?" While most of the book is very serious, there are moments like these that occasionally lighten the mood. Mostly, though, The Talk is a hard-hitting denunciation of racism and injustice. Like Bell, I also hope that the issues he addresses in the book can be overcome so that our Black children can live in a world that is safer, kinder, and more empathetic toward them. One step in that direction is to read this excellent book, take its message to heart, and use it to confront our own prejudices in order to create a better world for all of its people.

(Readalikes: Surprisingly, I haven't read a lot of other books like this. I should. Which do you recommend?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, disturbing subject matter, and mild innuendo/sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a copy of The Talk from the generous folks at Henry Holt and Company in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

4 comments:

  1. It's so sad that this is still the society we live in. No parent should have to have this kind of talk with their son or daughter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is always such a tough reality to think about. As a white man, it is important to read books like this one to better understand what people go through. We can all do our part to amplify these stories and hopefully build to a future where racism is less of an issue.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is going on my TBR! It sounds so intense and well done.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This sounds really powerful. Thank you for the review! It sounds similar to (but also different from) Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me which I read recently. Equally powerful, for sure.

    ReplyDelete

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