A refreshing, fun and hopeful take on the coming-of-age story, Jessica walton and Aka‘s Stars in their eyes is a graphic novel that celebrates nerdness and reinforces the value of representation, while exploring first love, self-care and identity.
The story follows Maisie as her mother takes her to her first Fancon. Maisie is a queer, disabled teenager with chronic pain and anxiety, and as excited as she is to be there and meet her hero, amputee actress Kara Bufano, Fancon presents her own challenges. When she meets Ollie, a lovable volunteer with whom she seems to have a lot in common, Maisie has to hope that her embarrassing mother doesn’t spoil her luck.
I’ll be frank, I’m neither disabled nor gay so I can’t speak to the portrayal in this book. I am, however, a huge nerd, and so I can say without a doubt that this story perfectly illustrates (no pun intended) how books, movies and television speak to us as fans, how it brings us and us together. helps to discover our own identities.
Maisie says at one point in the story that seeing Kara Bufano, an amputee like her, onscreen as a mad superhero helped her start to love herself. It’s a story that many of us can relate to as we seek our own place in the world. There are plenty of Easter Eggs here for fans of the nerd culture like âTarah Connorâ from Robot Girl, The Time Doctor, Far Fleet in Far Trek and Sci-fi Warsâ¦ any viewer will appreciate the depiction of the rushing crowds, the stalls full of merch, the uncomfortable seats in the panel rooms, the exorbitant food and of course the cosplayers. There is a feeling of excitement and exhaustion that is instantly recognizable.
There are also moments that make it clear what the limits are for non-disabled, cis, or straight people when interacting with someone like Maisie. In one of the first scenes, Maisie has to deal with people watching and commenting on her leg as she walks to the motel pool and immediately feels uncomfortable. Likewise, in a later scene, her mother, though well-meaning, introduces her to Ollie when she realizes Maisie is interested. Maisie is immediately embarrassed and tells her mother that she’s crossed the line. As the reader, you immediately fall in love with Maisie in both situations and are prompted to think about how not to behave in similar situations.
Apart from all that though, Stars in their eyes is a story of first love and family. Maisie’s mother is embarrassing but still supportive and would do anything for her daughter. The portrayal of Maisie and Ollie’s interactions (and their parents’ reactions to them) throughout the day is one of the most realistic portrayals of teenage love I’ve ever seen. It’s fast-paced, it’s intense, it’s often awkward but at this age it’s also innocent, filled with dreams and fan-fiction type conversations about food and music. My props go to the author for Maisie’s conversation with her mom at the end of it all.
I can’t end without mentioning AÅka’s artistic style. The attention to detail is superb without detracting from the story, enhancing any cheesy references, evoking the very meaning of Fancon, and creating a clear path for readers to understand everything that was going on.
This book was a pleasure to read. Sweet, fun, and sweet but not without its layers of complexity and social commentary. It is perfect for young adults, especially those who are struggling to find their own place in the world. The format of the graphic novel makes it accessible even to reluctant readers and the art gives it a fun and fresh feel despite some of the heavier thematic elements.