You bet I’m listening: Reviewing Tillie Walden’s new graphic novel + a bonus road trip book list

In the last couple of years, I’ve started to develop a love for graphic novels. My appreciation of graphic novels started with my Library of Congress internship because they were something we had a decent amount of on the shelves of the Young Readers Center and they were super quick reads to pull and sneak peeks at over the course of the summer. So I read The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag, Raina Telgemeir’s œuvre up to that point, and CeCe Bell’s phenomenal El Deafo. I took my love of graphic novels with me to Camp Kawanhee where I was able to order several (including El Deafo and The Witch Boy) to add to the camp library collection and the excitement that my campers have for graphic novels confirm that these books play an important part in literacy and helping young people develop a love of reading.

As I fell into the world of graphic novels, I came across Tillie Walden’s work. I read Spinning, Walden’s Eisner award winning graphic memoir during the first semester of my senior year of undergrad. Then, just a few months later right before I graduated, I read On a Sunbeam which was one of the most incredible works of science fiction that I’ve read in any medium. In fact, I’d argue that science fiction is a genre with such rich potential for graphic novels.

When I came across news that Walden had a new graphic novel are you listening? that was out this fall, I was quick to place a hold on it through the Boston Public Library. A new Tillie Walden book and one that’s a road trip narrative: Heck Yes!

The Goodreads summary of the graphic novel reads:

“Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou. This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.”

First things first, this book has a gorgeous cover that hints at a color scheme that relies on shades of pink and blue which I am all about. Secondly, the back has a blurb from Laura Ruby, author of Bone Gap (which hits a niche reading interest I have of rural fantasy). With those two things established, I had only to wait for my hold to become available and be delivered to my local branch library.

PS: There may be some spoilers in the upcoming review, I tried to avoid them, but advance at your own risk or if you’re just here for the road trip book recs, skip this part completely (it won’t hurt my feelings).

The Review

Are You Listening? opens with a map of Texas, and Tillie Walden’s Texas is like no Texas that you’ve ever seen before in your life with Amarillo on the border and Austin in the panhandle. This gorgeous map sets the scene for the magical realism that permeates this novel. The fantastical aspect of this text was hands down my favorite part of it. The plains of West Texas take on a magical quality that at times I feel like my own Kansas prairies could have.

My favorite line from this novel reinforces the magic of the middle-of-nowhere: “Well, most places mountains stay put. Sky stays in one piece. Kind of cruel, really. But here, everything is listening. The roads, the clouds, the trees…they know all your secrets. Everything you’ve seen is built by you. Which is why you’ll never see it again” (256).

The brilliant color work that Walden employs in her novel really help reinforce the magic of this text. The brilliant pinks, purples, yellows, and oranges work phenomenally together on the page and are so beautiful and vibrant. This text would not feel half as magical if not for Walden’s choice of colors.

Bea and Lou are a phenomenal pair of queer protagonists. I love that the two are able to support each other and develop a bond over the course of the novel, even though they start out as mere acquaintances. This kind of female-centric narrative is so important, because neither character is perfect. These are two messy leads, and Walden lets their every imperfection show but it doesn’t keep them. Additionally, through Bea and Lou, Walden considers grief, sexuality, coming out, and sexual assault. These are often difficult subjects to broach, and Walden brings them to the surface in a way that intermingles with the magic and makes them all the more powerful.

Bonus: My Road Trip Reads!

This year has possibly been the most heavily road tripped year of my life. During Spring Break, my best friend Katie and I took off from Manhattan, Kansas and embarked on a journey through the American Southwest to the Grand Canyon including stops in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, a brief brief moment in Moab, Utah, and my parent’s house in Colorado. The places we saw were overwhelming beautiful and we only drove each other crazy a few times

Then, in June, I drove myself 2000 miles across the country to Maine so I could have my car during my second summer of work at Camp Kawanhee for Boys. This was not the fun kind of road trip like my trip with Katie was. This was the “regret your choice after only making it through Nebraska” kind of road trip and the “why does upstate New York have so many trees” kind of road trip. After 3.5 days of what felt like non-stop driving, I finally made it to camp and was happy to be sedentary for a while.

Of course, the road trip from Colorado to Maine necessitated a return trip at the end of the summer. This time, I was lucky enough to have my mom along for the ride after my parents came to visit me at camp. Even though I was sick, and she picked up my cold, it was fun to spend that time with her. We even detoured to Niagara Falls (though we both agree that next time we want to see the falls from the Canadian side).

Since I’ve fully done multiple versions of the road trip this year, I feel qualified to dish up some recommendations on great road trip stories, books to read on road trips, and a few fascinating listens as well.

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

“Amy Curry is having a terrible year. Her mother has decided to move across the country and needs Amy to get their car from California to Connecticut. There’s just one small problem: Since her father died this past spring, Amy hasn’t been able to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger, the nineteen-year-old son of an old family friend, who turns out to be unexpectedly cute … and dealing with some baggage of his own. Meeting new people and coming to terms with her father’s death were not what Amy had planned on this trip. And traveling the Loneliest Road in America, seeing the Colorado mountains, crossing the Kansas plains, and visiting diners, dingy motels, and Graceland were definitely not on the itinerary. But as they drive, Amy finds that the people you least expected are the ones you may need the most—and that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.” Summary sourced from Goodreads.

I read this one back in high school, and it began my love of Morgan Matson’s adorable romance novels. I also enjoy this one because Amy and Roger’s road trip takes place in a Jeep Liberty which is what I drive, which makes it all the better.

Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Paper Towns: “Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew…” Summary sourced from Goodreads.

An Abundance of Katherines: “Katherine V thought boys were gross. Katherine X just wanted to be friends. Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail. K-19 broke his heart. When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun–but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.” Summary sourced from Goodreads.

I loved John Green first as writer and then as a Youtuber. Sure there are some things I don’t like about his books (especially now that I look back on them), but I still love how John Green captures that sense of pretension that precocious teenagers (like I was when I first read these books) have about themselves. Both Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines contain some solid road tripping goodness

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Three weeks. Two sisters. One car. A True Story. Raina can’t wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren’t quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she’s also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn’t improve much over the years, but when a baby brother enters the picture and later, when something doesn’t seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all. Raina uses her signature humor and charm in both present-day narrative and perfectly placed flashbacks to tell the story of her relationship with her sister, which unfolds during the course of a road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado.” Summary sourced from Goodreads.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a graphic novel on my road trip reads list. Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels were among the first that I ever read, so of course Sisters has an automatic place on my list

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

I know what you’re thinking, “Macy you can’t recommend Harry Potter anytime you want with reckless abandon.” And you’re right, but this recommendation has some solid foundation to it. This falls in the category of “books to read while on a road trip.” Doing a reread of a familiar series or book can be a great tactic for a road trip because if you take some time to look out the window at the scenery (or bother your sister) you don’t miss anything along the way. It put’s less pressure on the depth level you’re able to give to a book while you’re in the car.

Educated by Tara Westover

“Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home. Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.” Summary sourced from Goodreads

I listened to Educated on my way to Maine this summer and it kept me so incredible engaged while driving across the Midwest. If you want to put some nonfiction on your list, audiobooks are a great way to fit them in. I wasn’t a big audiobook person before my trip to Maine, but this one sold me.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

“Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true. At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon—from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.” Summary sourced from Goodreads.

My mom and I listened to Bossypants on our way back to Colorado from Maine, and it kept us laughing the whole time. Listening specifically to an audiobook of a comedian’s memoir that is read by the comedian is a great choice because it keeps you engaged and laughing the whole time.

These are just a few of what could be a long list of books about road trips and books to read or listen to on road trips. However that was the best thing about Are You Listening?: The reminder of road trip magic that made me want to rehash some of my best road trips, and remember all of the great books I’ve read on the many road trips I’ve been on.

I’d love to hear about your road trips and any recommendations you might have!

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