Marlene would rather have her nose in a book or spend time with her best friend Camila than focusing on school and growing up the way her mom wants. Tia Ruby–her mom’s younger sister–is a grown up but she’s still cool and fun. Can’t Marlene be like her instead?
According to her mom, the answer is no. Instead Marlene has to trek to the salon every weekend with her mom to make sure that her naturally curly hair can be properly straightened and relaxed to look “good” and “proper.” It’s not even just the salon because after that Marlene has to make sure she doesn’t run around too much, or get her hair wet, or do anything fun that might ruin the straightening.
Marlene doesn’t understand why her curls are so bad–she loves her natural hair and the way Tia Ruby has the same (admittedly more under control) curls. And she’s beautiful. Can’t Marlene’s hair be like that?
With help from Camila and Tia Ruby (and quite a few disasters along the way), Marlene hopes that she can learn how to maintain her natural hair and convince her mother that her curly hair can be “good” without all of the salon visits in Frizzy (2022) by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra.
Frizzy is Ortega’s first graphic novel and Bousamra’s debut; it received a 2023 Pura Belpré Award for Children’s Text. Bousamra’s illustrations and their soft color palette tenderly bring Marlene’s story to life. The soft colors and fine line work lovingly portray both Marlene and Ruby’s curls in this ode to natural hair. The interplay between Ortega’s text and Bousamra’s art make this full-color graphic novel a delight with a great balance of dialog, expository text, and visual cues.
Marlene and her family are Dominican American. Laugh-inducing efforts to properly style Marlene’s uncooperative curls add humor to this relatable story that also tackles anti-blackness (in relation to seeking “good” hair styles reminiscent of white hair) within the latinx community in thoughtful and age-appropriate conversations with both Marlene’s mom and her aunt. In addition to celebrating natural hair, Frizzy also joyfully gives Marlene space to choose how she will present herself to the world and–with support from her loved ones–also helps her find the agency to reclaim wash day for family bonding instead of dreaded salon trips.
Frizzy is a wonderfully empowering story about family, acceptance, and growing up. Highly recommended.
Possible Pairings: The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel, Miss Quinces by Kat Fajardo, Mercy Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina, Chunky by Yehudi Mercado, The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat and Joanna Cacao, Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution by Sherri Winston
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*