If you follow me on social media, it’s likely that you’ve seen me gushing about Bloom, Kevin Panetta’s and Savanna Ganucheau’s debut graphic novel from First Second Books. In addition to interviewing Panetta and Ganucheau for The Beat, I wanted to write a proper review as well. My reasons are twofold: 1) I received an advanced ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and 2) I love this book so much and I want to talk about it with everyone, all the time.
Bloom follows Ari and Hector, two teenage boys with vastly different dreams, as they fall in love during the course of a very surprising summer. From the moment they first lay eyes on each other on what would otherwise be a totally innocuous morning, there’s a connection between them that can’t be broken — even with mean-spirited “friends” and actual disasters getting in the way of their relationship.
Here’s the official plot description, per GoodReads:
Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom… that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.
Bloom is the kind of feel-good romance that sticks with you, days and even weeks after you read it. Rather than telling a coming-out story, Panetta and Ganucheau have crafted a narrative wherein the characters aren’t going through sexuality crises; just growing pains. Their friendship develops slowly, from time spent in the bakery together and time spent outside of it, too. Romantic feelings grow organically from there.
Because the book covers a timeframe of several months, there are moments when the character growth feels rushed — though that ultimately doesn’t detract from the overall pacing of the story. Frankly, it just makes me want to spend more time in this universe, with a sequel (or two, or three).
This romance works largely because Ari and Hector have such full worlds outside of each other. In addition to seeing them both interact with Ari’s parents, we also see them interact with their friends. Ari’s band plays an integral role in the plot and Hector’s friends, though they live in another town, have equally full lives. The characters talk about their lives with each other and interact outside of the main romance plot; this makes it all the more believable. Bloom reads like a slice-of-life vignette, which is beautiful in its set-up and execution.
Of course, it isn’t just the writing that lends Bloom this delightfully genuine air. Ganucheau’s art is beautiful, especially in the detail work. I’m particularly fond of the way she illustrates facial expressions; Ari and Hector, in particular, communicate so much through looks and touches. Seeing that represented through Ganucheau’s art is wonderful.
The color palette also emphasizes what the characters are feeling as the story unfolds. Since the panels are colored in black, white, gray and shades of blue, everything is laid bare for the reader. There’s no way to hide anything. That’s not to say that full color comics aren’t beautiful or evocative — they are. The lack of color here just doesn’t feel like anything is lacking, which is frankly a massive accomplishment.
I came away from Bloom with a deep appreciation for the story, its characters and its creators. As I mentioned in my interview with Panetta and Ganucheau, this graphic novel reminds me of books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and The Music of What Happens. Too often, LGBTQ romances focus on hardship in a way that feels defeatist. Finding positive queer representation can feel impossible some days.
Luckily, that seems to be changing now. Books like Bloom tell queer stories that aren’t focused on the trials and tribulations of being queer, which are still important, but shouldn’t be all that exists. Queer joy is real and it deserves a spotlight. I’m so glad that Bloom shines a light on that.
Plus, I’m a sucker for stories where characters bond over food. I’m genuinely excited to try the sourdough recipe that’s included in the back of this book — and the playlist that’s included is wonderful, too.
To grab a copy of Bloom, click here.
Overall rating: ★★★★★
Recommended for: Everyone, but especially romance fans who enjoy a happy ending and a sweet, satisfying narrative. If you’ve ever read a graphic novel or comic book before, this might be the one that turns you onto the genre as a whole.