I wish I´d had graphic novels like this one to read when I was a tween. You Brought Me the Ocean is a sensitive and poetic coming out story of kids that are out of place, in a desert yearning for the ocean, and that really gets to the emotional complexities of the denial, hope, fears and imaginings that kids go through coming to terms with their sexuality. This one features more understanding adults than has been my experience. It also is a lot more nuanced rendering than I´m accustomed to.
Jake has been lifelong best friends with Maria. They understand each other perfectly except she thinks they´re a couple and that he´s just being super-respectful and considerate, whereas he loves her but only as his bestest friend. They´re finishing High School and applying to university. She wants to stay just were they live in New Mexico, which she finds beautiful and perfect and he´s got a powerful but not quite understandable yearning to go to Miami and be near the ocean. The ocean calls out to him in a way he dreams of but doesn´t understand. They haven´t discussed any of it but are so sure of their friendship they´re confident they will resolve it and end up at the same university.
There are many things Jake doesn´t know about himself. A kid he´s known since middle-school, Kenny, begins to help him understand at least some of them. Kenny is motherless and taking care of a disabled father. He´s out, is often abused for it at school, burdened by responsibilities at home and in the swim team. Jake finds himself drawn to Kenny in ways that at first he doesn´t understand and that quickly bring to the fore much he´s been suppressing. The issue is made live and urgent when Maria catches them kissing in the pool.
How this gets resolved would on its own make for a gripping graphic novel, particularly when so beautifully drawn by Julie Maroh, probably most famous for Blue is the Warmest Colour. But there´s more: Jake discovers he´s got odd powers over water, that he´s the result of a genetic experiment, and that there´s some kind of connection to Aquaman. I can´t wait for further installments.
One element that is worth commenting on is the racial representation in the novel. Maria is clearly Latin, Kenny is of Chinese descent and Jake is black. Everything is acknowledged but not much is made of it and it took me a while to register it. The book takes it for granted, makes it seem natural and the norm, as it rarely ever is. Another element is that each of the kids is rendered unique, desiring and desirable in a way that also seems rare in the culture we live in, particularly with regard to East-Asian characters.
It´s a beautiful book, nuanced and very touching. I highly recommend it.