Is your Instagram feed full of your friends baking cakes, muffins, banana bread… endless variations of banana bread? No? Just me? Well okay, but there’s a weird connection between the LGBTQ+ community and the calming, homely, carb-inflused art of “Sugar – Butter – Flour” (to quote the musical Waitress). And there’s something equally warm and filling about Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau’s 2019 graphic novel Bloom.
Ari (short for Aristotle) has just finished high school. He’s in a band that’s starting to look more like a teenage dream than an actual career path. And his friendship group feels like it’s slowly drifting apart. As much as Ari wants to get out of town and move to the big city, he’s stuck working in his parents’ struggling bakery. It takes the arrival of the easy-going baker Hector to open his eyes.
Bloom, like the title, is a gentle, flowing read. Ari’s angst is juxtaposed against Hector’s joy and the pages of them getting lost in the art of baking have a wordless, lyrical lightness of touch. Ganucheau’s art, rendered in monochromatic shades of blue, moves effortlessly. It’s a real testament both to her skill as an illustratior as well as pacing and plot.
There is a fine balance between Ari’s wants and the pressures on the family as a whole; the bakery is popular but is only breaking even. His parents are caring but all Ari can see is how they’re getting in his way, while Hector sees them as a loving unit.
As much as this is a romance between Ari and Hector, the book is more of a “coming of age” story for Ari as he comes out of his angry teen years and starts to step into his adulthood. Hector helps him see the things he’s grown used to ignoring. But Hector is no “pixie dream girl” trope, he’s also facing his own issues.
What’s really refreshing is that this is not a coming out story, there is no gay-angst to deal with. The details are focused on the emotional complexities of youthful romance without the shadow of gay-shame. Panetta has said he “wanted to write a story about rejecting cynicism and learning to be earnest and loving. It’s something I struggled with as a jerky teenager and I’m much happier being on the other side of it!”
Bloom reads like an indie teen film (think Lady Bird or Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) with bonus baking tips. At 368 pages it’s a solid read with enough space to let the characters breathe and tell a full story. If you’re a fan of graphic novels or fa’apapa (a Samoan coconut bread), you’ll enjoy this a lot.
By Chad Armstrong
Order Bloom from your local bookseller.