We’ve all had that awkward first meeting with a new partner’s parents, but what if they turn out to be hideous people who actually make your partner worse by being around them? This is the central premise of Charlot Kristensen’s debut book from Avery Hill, but will our heroine Farai deal with this encounter?
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer: Charlot Kristensen
Artist: Charlot Kristensen
Price: £11.99 from Avery Hill Store
Farai and her boyfriend have been together for two years, but this is the first time she has met his parents. As they head up from London to Windermere it ends up being a clash of cultures as Zimbabwean Farai is not what Adam’s domineering mother had wished for her son – who is already something of a disappointment due to him becoming a pianist and not a chemist. While many stories like this might see the relationship start frosty but eventually thaw as both parties find the positives in each other, instead Christensen goes for a story of independence and solidarity for Farai and the book ends up with a much more uplifting finale as a result.
What We Don’t Talk About is a wonderfully sold story, that reminded us a little of the the film Get Out, with it’s themes of middle class, white racism – however this is a much gentler and less sinister tale. Both Adam and Farai are really well realised. She is exuberant and outgoing, but also humble and very real. She starts out being flakey and late for the station, but ultimately she is a loyal girlfriend put into a tough situation. She supports Adam in his choices, even when this puts her into conflict with Adam’s pushy and disapproving mother and she stands her ground admirably.
Meanwhile, Adam initially starts of as quite a sympathetic character, even in the face of his strong mother. However he ultimately is cast as being as weak willed and easily controlled and you end up wanting him to have the same kind of loyalty to Farai as she has to him.
Adam’s mother meanwhile may start out as as aloof, but she soon becomes downright rude and obnoxious. (As does Adam’s hen pecked and largely anonymous father) While this work’s well for the overall arc of the story she’s does come across as fairly generic ‘nasty white lady’ and you never really get a sense of why they disapprove of Farai – is it just a general disapproval of Adam?
Kristensen’s attempts to make it into more than just a race issue by mixing her ignorant opinions in with disapproval of Adam’s musicality, but ultimately she just ends up as an ignorant racist. While this make Fari’s moment of victory even more uplifting, it does make it feel a bit lightweight and the resolution feels very easily achieved as you don’t feel like the mother gets her comeuppance at the end. However not every book needs to be a hard hitting expose, and the book benefits from not being too complex or overly preachy.
Visually it looks beautiful. Kristensens’ vibrant and colourful palette really makes the most of Farai’s colourful African inspired clothing. While in contrast Adam’s family are angular and bland, which help make their opinions feel even more snide and ugly. The locations in Windermere are gloriously realised and the whole thing is told in a very smooth and seamless way. The artwork feels digitally painted and has that looser style which you get as a result. Kristensen, mixes tightly panelled conversation pages with more thoughtful break out pages (which reminded us of Jon McNaught’s Kingdom) and allow you time to consider what has just happened – in the same way that Farai is periodically required to question exactly what is happening and how she should react.
Overall What We Don’t Talk About is a wonderfully uplifting look at confronting prejudice and knowing yourself. Farai is a strong and very believable heroine, and her actions should inspire people to be confident in their own beliefs, their own skin and not be negatively influenced by others – even loved ones and those in your immediate family. Another thoughtful and beautiful read from Avery Hill and a potential packed debut from Kristensen!