• Reviews 

    “Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos”

    By | April 15th, 2019
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Lucy Knisley continues her tradition of life stages and transition-centered storytelling in her sixth graphic memoir, “Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos.” In it, Knisley explores how the pop culture landscape that existed during her childhood in the late 1980s and early 1990s – a culture that seemed fascinated with pregnancy and babies – helped to spark her own childhood obsession with the concept of having a child. She carried much of that fascination into her own adulthood, and one of the end results of that fascination is this memoir, which contains a nicely balanced mix of personal experiences and historical context surrounding pregnancies and women’s reproductive health.

    Cover by Lucy Knisley
    Written, illustrated, colored, and lettered by Lucy Knisley

    In 241 pages, Knisley manages to do for her readers what generations of sex education has failed to do: she has provided an unflinchingly honest, straightforward, captivating, and often horrifying look at the way topics surrounding female anatomy and sex have been treated by experts and non-experts alike throughout history. Knisley expertly frames how that historical and perpetual treatment can be, and often is, detrimental to both women and men, especially impressionable young people who often grow up to be confused and under-informed adults. Though her memoir is highly personal and at times unsettling, Knisley is able to present her story and the research she did before, during, and after her pregnancy in such a way as to make this memoir enlightening and worthwhile to all, parent or not.

    The book follows a cyclical format of personal story – pre-pregnancy, each trimester, Pal’s birth, and leaving the hospital – followed by a research or informational component on topics including misconceptions involving female anatomy, superstitions surrounding pregnancy, miscarriage myths, and trends and movements that have impacted how women have experienced pregnancy and childbirth throughout time. Each of these personal and historical segments work together as a collective chapter, and are preceded by a pregnancy progression photograph of Knisley and husband John, as well as fetal development illustrations.

    As Knisley tells of her personal experiences, a traditional arrangement of panels is used, with many pages presenting anywhere from two to six panels in all. Although there is considerable white space above and below the panels, the high density of writing on same pages can make the pages appear busier than they actually are. Even so, the pages are never overwhelming in appearance. Thoughts and speech between people appear in word and thought bubbles, while narration to the reader – which takes on a conversational but informative tone – appears in a series of narrative boxes.

    In sections where research and information is shared, the use of panels by and large goes by the wayside and is presented much more often in diagrams, casual infographics, and text boxes that appear to flow from one to the other. Roundness also become a recurring theme, with many images or facts presented in colorful, overlapping circles throughout. Knisley also makes the decision to visually separate her less personal, historical narration from her more personal narration by coloring the former’s narrative boxes with a pale yellow while the latter remain white.

    The coloring through most of the story consists of subdued pastels that are mixed and matched with contrasting darker colors that bring calculated weight to the panels they appear in. Especially weighty are the fetal development illustrations, which center a small – but growing – white illustration that floats in a sea of tranquil, inky black darkness. Although the pregnancy that Lucy experiences is full of discomfort – of the physical, emotional, and mental varieties – she depicts the development of a baby with a clinical, but peaceful, approach.

    Because Lucy has little to no recollection of the time immediately following the birth of Pal, an eight page spread from John’s point of view is included, and it is distinguishable from Lucy’s by its complete lack of coloring. This nicely and simply depicts not only that it is a different point of view, but also that although she has an idea of what those days held, she’ll never have the full picture from her own point of view.

    Readers will enjoy the full volume, and while it is possible they will get equal enjoyment from both parts of the story, it is more likely they will gravitate to one portion over the other (either the personal or the research/information) depending upon their own motivations for reading the book and/or their own life experiences. Knisley’s personal experiences come across as reassuring and therapeutic, particularly for those readers who have felt shame or failure at their own miscarriages or pregnancy struggles, regardless of how commonplace they are. And that is how this book shines: it takes the commonplace experiences that have been kept shrouded for so long in the name of so-called propriety and exposes them as the normal, but still upsetting, occurrences they really are. Knisley gives voice to the unspoken experiences of many women throughout time and while that is becoming more and more common thanks to the internet, it is still no small feat.

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    The research that Knisely shares can be similarly reassuring, but more often than not, it is astonishing in what it exposes – the sexism that still exists in women’s reproductive health (the inherited professional attitudes that led to her own OBGYN ignoring her near deadly eclampsia symptoms), the physical, emotional, and mental abuse of and trauma experienced by slave women who were experimented on by J. Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology.” Knisley also covers the rising mortality rates of mothers in the U.S. due to the shift in focus moving from the concept of a mother as a person to a mother as a vessel for having children. Knisley does a great job here of providing just enough information to the reader to intrigue and hopefully lead to further research and follow-up of their own without overwhelming them or shifting the focus too far away from her own story. In this, she strikes the perfect balance.

    Recommended sources for further reading, browsing, and listening – as well as pregnancy comfort items – are shared in the afterword.

    A uniquely important and touching story.

    Alea Perez

    For ten years, Alea has been a librarian by day and a graphic novel reader by night. She is the current President-elect for the ALA GNCRT, has served on the American Library Association's YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee (as a member and chair), has moderated and paneled at SDCC, and generally advocates for graphic novels in library and school settings.