Thank you to Holiday House/Pixel+Ink for a copy of Constellations in exchange for an honest review.
“Set in 1980s Troy, New York, Constellations follows a queer teen’s search for identity and support in a hostile culture. Using watercolor and ink, author Kate Glasheen has created a world where strong lines meet soft color, and raw emotions meet deep thought. Are you supposed to be a boy or a girl? It’s a question that follows 16-year-old Claire everywhere.
But as long as they have a drink in their hand and a party to go to, Claire can manage. Right? When the latest party goes disastrously wrong, Claire tips too close to the edge. A stay at rehab offers new friends and a chance to do the impossible: to tell the truth about themselves, their drinking, friends, family, the good, the bad — everything. That is, if Claire will take it.” — From the publisher
“They [never try] to make me go to rehab …”
This may come off somewhat gauche, but we really don’t have enough stories about teens in rehab. And, if stories do include rehab, it’s usually just a short stint or montage, not the central focus. I get it. There’s a risk of tedium. Then the chance of getting it wrong. Or just the off chance that audiences may not like it. But none of those are compelling enough reasons to avoid telling these stories.
That Kate Glasheen’s Constellations is a graphic novel makes this story somehow both more visceral and less “graphic” a tale than a straight novel might have been. We can see Claire and Claire’s friends’ pain in their faces, but events are painted in broad strokes rather than nitty-gritty details.
Queer in the 1980s
I honestly didn’t realize Constellations is set in the 1980s until rereading the book summary. Thinking back on it, the only thing that would have (should have?) tipped me off is the lack of cell phones. That said, the fact that I couldn’t tell this book was set 30 to 40 years ago shows things have not changed as much as we might think or want to believe. Even today, I could see Claire self-questioning, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Not to mention the external questioning.
All this to say: Constellations hits hard. And I wonder whether it will be soothing or saddening for teens to see how little things have changed. (That’s not to say Glasheen should have considered that upon writing. Just a musing.)
Should you read it?
Without a doubt. This is a read for teens, parents and educators. It’s also a quick read, which I always like to point out because I know long-form reading can be challenging for some. Anyone who wants to understand more about addiction/substance abuse should read Constellations.
Constellations comes out on May 23, 2023. Pick up a copy at your local indie bookstore or library. 📚⚧️💝
Content warnings: Addiction, substance abuse, queerphobia, child abuse, death.