Guts

By Raina Telgemeier

Graphix. 224 pp. $12.99

Reviewed by Michael Cavna

The graphic novelist who first cracked the best-seller list by writing about her teeth has turned her focus to another part of her body, her stomach. It’s yes, a gutsy move — and one that pays off.

Many young readers were introduced to Raina Telgemeier through Smile, her 2010 autobiographical tale of the dental misadventures of her youth. Her hit follow-ups included Sisters, another true story from her Bay Area upbringing.

Now Telgemeier completes her personal trilogy with Guts, which chronicles her battles with anxiety while growing up, including bouts of nausea and fear of potentially disagreeable foods.

Winningly on exhibit again in Guts is Telgemeier’s warm honesty. She writes and draws her phobias and insecurities with knowing humor. It’s an appealing approach that has made her a best-selling, brand-name author among middle-grade readers. Millions of students snap up what at least one media outlet has dubbed a “Telgememoir.”

In Guts, young Raina, the sensitive avatar on the page, has become a richly developed character. Her expressive eyes help readers empathize with her challenges, which in Guts include gripping her belly and fleeing the scene — panic-attack moments that Telgemeier poignantly depicts in ripples of deep, queasy green.

Amid Raina’s stomach woes, Guts also delivers on a Telgemeier trademark: capturing the universal experience of navigating the ever-tenuous social structure at school. Friendship triangles and false perceptions heighten the classroom and cafeteria drama.

Raina eventually goes to therapy to treat her anxiety, and these sessions are handled with a deft sensitivity in which young readers, perhaps facing similar fears, can find comfort. It's an accomplishment that renders the book a must-get for not only school librarians, but also clinicians who treat children. (Telgemeier writes in the afterword of the various therapies she has used, further destigmatizing such treatment for school-age readers.)

Best of all, Guts — a story not only of sore tummies, but also of courage and intestinal fortitude — should prove to be a conversation-starter between children and adults. There are too few such graphic novels in the YA market. Guts holds reassuring lessons for any kid facing down fears and the people who love them.

Cavna wrote this for the Washington Post, where it first appeared.