I bought Bloom probably a year ago, but never got around to reading it until last night--when I read it in one sitting. I don't know why I let it languish on my shelves for so long, but I'm glad I read it when I did. I needed something to lift my spirits, and Bloom did exactly that. Not only is this graphic novel a heartfelt, LGBT+ romance, it is also a very affirming account of navigating that scary time gap between graduating high school and whatever comes next.
Bloom, written by Kevin Panetta and gorgeously illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, is a story that I found as relevant to me now, 24 and starting grad school, as I would have found it post high school graduation. Like Ari, the main character, I'm still living in my hometown with my parents, and I've also dipped my toe into helping with the family business when times got tough. And, like Ari, I didn't always enjoy it. I'm sure he would be just as unhappy doing data entry (which is what my job mostly consisted of) as he is delivering bread and pastries to his parents' customers.
Ari's family runs a small bakery, and they've been having some serious financial troubles. Ari's sister just got married, which leaves it to Ari to help out, which is the last thing he wants to do. Ari dreams of moving out to the big city with his friends and bandmates, where they plan on making it big. Ari's solution to this conundrum? Find someone else who can man the bakery.
Enter Hector, a young aspiring baker who is taking a hiatus from culinary school to help clear out and sell the house of his recently deceased grandmother. While Ari can be a little headstrong, argumentative, and is clearly still growing out of his teenaged tendencies, Hector is a bright light in any room. He's dependable, hard-working, and his love for baking is palpable in the luscious illustrations that depict him working in the kitchen. It's a delight to watch these two fall for each other while baking bread, muffins, and all sorts of treats.
I think one of my favorite parts of this comic are the very believable flaws of Hector and Ari. Quite early on, we learn that Hector's eagerness to help others can cause others to take advantage of him, and it's something he's trying to be more aware of now. Hector seems to have things a little more put-together than Ari, but it doesn't mean that he has all of the answers or offers the perfect fix for Ari's mishaps.
Ari is so laser-focused on getting out of his hometown that he fails to see what a wonderful life he actually has, and the amazing people who surround him. Instead, he goes along with the cruel remarks of two of his friends, and he's not big on taking the blame when he screws up. He has a lot of growing to do, but that's why I found myself rooting for him. It's easy to see that Ari is just a scared young person trying to figure out what he wants in life, and what kind of person he wants to be.
I really enjoyed seeing the diversity in this book as well. Ari's parents are Greek (the story doesn't specify what generation, or even if his mom is Greek, but she seems to be just as familiar with the Greek recipes as Ari's father), and Hector has Samoan ties. It's really cool to see Ari and Hector connecting with their families' cultural roots through food. The entire cast of characters in Bloom is racially diverse, from random side characters to Ari and Hector's friend groups.
I also appreciated the way Ari and Hector's sexualities are handled in the book. Hector is implied to be gay, and while one of his friend gives him some friendly teasing about it, his identity is a non-issue. Ari's sexuality never comes up in words, and I surprisingly didn't mind that in the last bit. I was happy to read a YA romance where queer characters don't spend the entire story grappling with identity, and instead focus on other issues, like finding happiness and fulfillment while emerging into adulthood. There's room for all sorts of stories in the ever-expanding LGBT+ canon, and I'm so glad that Bloom exists.
On one final note, the art in Bloom really is gorgeous. The blue color palette washes the story in whimsy and summer nostalgia, and I adore the playful and lovely rendering of the characters. The backgrounds have so much detail and care put into them, and the scenes in the bakery are absolutely luscious. I wish I could live in Ari's hometown after reading this book!
Buy a copy of Bloom for $17.99 at Barnes and Noble, or grab a copy at your local indie bookstore or library.
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.