Reviewed by Olive Dausinas
Snotgirl. It’s not a title you would usually expect from anything released in the modern day, let alone in the last five years. The name made me raise an eyebrow. I thought, “What could any story with that name even be about?” I was even more intrigued once I read the name of the author, Bryan Lee O’Malley. He is the author of the cult favorite graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim. In both series, he weaves a tale of emotional ignorance in the face of adulthood in our modern world.
The Snotgirl series tells the story of Lottie Person, who lives the life that most people of our age might be aiming to achieve. She is a social media star. She has everything she could want from life, with the exception of everything that matters. With no romantic partner, no actual friends, and enough debilitating allergies to make her agree to a shady drug trial, Lottie’s life is not what she wants. The constant allergy and sinus problems she suffers from is why we have the title Snotgirl. Caroline, a cool girl, soon enters Lottie’s life, but Lottie isn’t sure whether her new medication is causing reality to crumble beneath her. “Is Caroline real?” she asks. Are the things that Lottie hears from the people around her actually what’s being said?
Much of the first volume’s story revolves around themes of shallowness in the realm of social media celebrities, as well as how this preconceived notion of self-importance can harm a person’s fragile mentality. Lottie is the epitome of all the shallow and self-important celebrities that clog up Twitter and Instagram, but she is nearly self-aware enough to notice how utterly unimportant this profession is to her. Her sole motivation is a desire for companionship, but her emotional immaturity often gets in the way of this goal: to make a friend. In a world that is slowly being devoured by social media presence, people devise friendships and other relationships on their brand as opposed to a genuine connection between two individuals. Lottie is split between thinking she is a wonderfully important person and someone who is utterly worthless in the grand scheme of things.
Bryan Lee O’Malley is a Canadian cartoonist of Korean descent known for his similar graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim. Snotgirl is O’Malley’s second major foray into an ongoing story that continues to today. Stories about emotional immaturity as its core theme are often more straightforward than subtle. Similar graphic novels such as the Scott Pilgrim series, also written and drawn by O’Malley, or Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, are wonderful insights into how someone putting themselves above others can irreparably harm the person as well as the people they know and care about.
Primarily writing stories about the folly of adulthood into the mid to late twenties, O’Malley has crafted a narrative in Snotgirl that goes even beyond his previous works. The mysteries that Lottie experiences often have us guessing whether what is being read is real or some hallucinatory side effect of her experimental allergy medication. It leads us down a winding path of what is real and what is fake. We ask whether Lottie is experiencing these things, or whether there is something supernatural occurring that the reader has yet to see. We are unsure of these things, but it creates a drive to continue reading to find out more about Lottie’s predicaments.
The pacing in Snotgirl can be all over the place with months skipping by between chapters, but that may serve the sole purpose of showing the sort of routine nature of Lottie’s life. The same goes for the characters as well. Because the narrative is told through Lottie’s point of view, several characters range from underwhelmingly unimportant to overly important depending on how she views them. People like her friends Meg and Misty are often ignored because of how little they truly matter to her. On the other hand, characters like Caroline, the cool girl that Lottie becomes obsessed with, and Charlene, a quiet mousy looking girl whom Lottie despises, are much more important because of how inflated they are in Lottie’s mind.
In my opinion, the place that could probably use the most work is a subplot involving a fashionable police detective who is a fan of Lottie’s. It comes off as a contrived reason for the police to become involved with the story, as it quickly details the detective as a fashion school student who dropped out to join the force in his ill father’s footsteps. Considering how forced it appears, it takes you out of the story in some cases, especially after the detective begins to interact directly with Lottie.
However, this is a story I recommend. If you are interested in a deconstruction of the mentality of a social media star, which possibly leads to criminal mystery and supernatural elements, I recommend it even more. So many people nowadays hang on the word of social media stars, but Snotgirl is a reminder that at the end of the day, they are people, too, with just as many vices and problems as anyone else.
An excellent beginning to what is an ongoing story, Snotgirl is easy to get sucked into between the spot-on writing of O’Malley and the lovely art of Leslie Hung, who gives the characters an incredible amount of life. Just as easy as it is to start reading, it is equally as hard to put down.