October 2022 Indie Bestseller
A middle grade graphic novel about Marlene, a young girl who stops straightening her hair and embraces her natural curls.
Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby and hanging out with her best friend Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and "growing up." That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have "presentable", "good hair".
But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn't understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment, and the much-needed help of Camila and Tia Ruby—she slowly starts a journey to learn to appreciate and proudly wear her curly hair.
Dominican middle schooler Marlene tackles Eurocentric and anti-Afrolatinx beauty standards in this empowering graphic novel by Ortega (Witchlings) and debut creator Bousamra. Going to the salon for a blowout is "the worst part of the week" for Marlene, who has naturally curly hair. After a ruined blowout results in disparaging comments about her hair at her "perfect" older cousin's quince, Marlene decides to make a change. Seeking a new look, Marlene and Latinx best friend Cam, who has wavy hair, look up curly hair tutorials on YouTube. But when Marlene struggles to follow the complicated steps, her self-confidence falters. To cheer her up, Marlene's mother sends her to visit Tía Ruby, her mother's cool younger sister, who unabashedly embraces her hair texture and helps Marlene to confront her family's beauty expectations. Bousamra skillfully renders expressive and visually distinct characters, employing bright and cheerful coloring in pastel hues to sweetly capture touching moments. Ortega expertly examines themes of colorism, generational trauma, and toxic beauty standards via authentic, heartstring-tugging dialogue and Marlene's pitch-perfect narration, culminating in a satisfying and heartwarming exploration of self-expression and self-love. Ages 8–12. Agents: (for Ortega) Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary; (for Bousamra) Tamara Kawar, DeFiore & Co.