Corinna, Heather (Writer), Isabella Rotman (Illustrator), and Luke B. Howard (Colorist). What, What? A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up. Portland, OR: Limerence Press, 2019.
In this succinct yet comprehensive nonfiction graphic novel, Scarleteen geniuses Heather Corinna and Isabella Rotman bring sexuality education to preteens and teens. Covering relationships, bodies, and puberty, Wait, What? is highly inclusive in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship style, and ethnicity. It is also accessible in terms of clear text, plenty of white space, and engaging comic illustrations.
Subtle lessons are woven throughout the book, articulated by a friendly group of multiracial preteens. Some are straight and cisgender and some are queer. All are supportive of one another’s identities and experiences. The friends discuss puberty in a queer-inclusive way, using affirming language rather than gendering genitals. Intersex youth are not left out, either.
Besides the physiological aspects of puberty, emotional and relational aspects are discussed as well. Feelings of inadequacy and body shame are discussed in a forthright manner. In particular, I appreciated the portion devoted to genital appearance. Differences are highlighted and celebrated; all genitals are kind of funny looking and that’s okay and normal.
There are also many fantastic passages about false gender stereotypes. Boy things versus girl things is discussed, as are the differences between boys, girls, and nonbinary folks. Trans folks are celebrated and normalized. In addition, crushes and dating are explored, with special focus on all sorts of consent and encouragement to explore, be curious, and have fun. Alternative relationship styles are also mentioned without stigma.
The mechanics of sex are briefly talked about, without privileging any one type of sex. Feelings of readiness are discussed, as well as risks and risk-aversion strategies. Sexual orientation is also explained, with both bisexuality and asexuality named as valid orientations to be proud of. I really liked, in this part, how one character eschews labels because of stereotypes and expectations, while another one likes labels to be connected to a community. The book ends with a glossary and some excellent further resources.
I highly recommend Wait, What? to any preteens or teens who are curious about puberty, LGBTQIA+ issues, and relationships. I think this title would be especially enticing to reluctant readers. This is a crucial book for every middle and high school library as well as public libraries.