At first, Raina isn’t overly worried when she wakes up feeling poorly. With her mum suffering too she convinces herself it’s just a bug. Unlike her mum though, Raina’s tummy trouble keeps coming back, coinciding with the ups and downs of school life, friendships, frenemies and fallouts. Raina’s increasing anxiety and stress manifest themselves as nausea and stomach aches, food issues and phobias until finally, as the disorder threatens to take over her life, a helpful therapist gives Raina coping mechanisms to combat her fears.
Guts is a deceptively simple graphic memoir based on the author’s personal experience of clinical anxiety. The stunning emoji cover design makes it irresistibly pickupable. The bright colours and simple features of the comic book style are instantly appealing but carry real expression, emotional honesty and psychological depth. Telgemeier doesn’t spare the reader any of the queasy details of her story but still manages to be brilliantly funny too. Thought bubbles show the reader exactly how Raina feels, crowding in on the page to illustrate the extent of her anxiety and its claustrophobic effects. Clever use of panel space and colour serve to intensify the crushing emotions Raina feels. As in all the very best graphic novels, text is kept to a minimum and the pictures are allowed to tell the story, drawing the reader in.
In less skilled hands, this kind of story could easily come across as preachy but Telgemeier’s account is completely non-judgmental and presents techniques helpful in dealing with anxiety, empowering fellow sufferers to feel less alone and helping others understand just how it feels to experience anxiety and panic attacks.
Raina is a gutsy character, much more than her anxiety too - a fully formed, cool character readers will warm to, passionate about comics and drawing and able to use her talents to help others.
With mental health problems on the increase in young people, Guts is just one of the ways we can help, tackling mental wellness head on, destigmatising therapy and empowering children to talk about their feelings. Guts is perfectly pitched for tweenage readers but is, in fact, a book for everyone; anxiety sufferers and their friends, families, carers, teachers, therapists. It is a real and very reassuring conversation starter about facing your fears and finding ways to cope. It is a book for keen readers, for comics enthusiasts and for those who think that reading just isn’t for them.
Despite constantly topping the bestseller charts in the US, Telgemeier’s books are massively underrated and undersold in the UK. Don’t just buy this one buy Smile, Sisters, Drama and Ghosts too.