Books Early Readers Genre graphic novel Lifespan of a Reader Memoirs, Biographies, and Constructed Narratives Middle Grade Picture Books Reading Themes

How To Survive “A Year Without Mom” – A Graphic Memoir by Dasha Tolstikova

"A Year Without Mom" by Dasha Tolstikova

Myra here.


A Year Without Mom

A Graphic Memoir by: Dasha Tolstikova
Published by: Groundwood Books (2015)
ISBN-10: 1554986923
ISBN-13: 9781554986927
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This book defies easy classification. While it is categorized as a graphic novel memoir, it does not contain the usual panels, commonly found in comic books. It has more of a hybrid feel too, known in academic circles as a ‘fusion text’ whereby it has a feel of a sophisticated picturebook, except that it isn’t. For one, it is much lengthier, it is also wordier, and it deals with pre-adolescent themes.

Essentially, it tells the story of the author as a 12 year old girl living in Moscow in the 1990s with her divorced mother and grandparents. As the world changes around her, Dasha also has to deal with the fact that her mother needs to leave Moscow to take her Masters degree in advertising at an American university.

There is a distinct voice and uniqueness to the narrative; the greyness of the images may have been deliberate to convey the overcast, greyish hues of Russia as a place, or it may also be meant to add nuance to the atmospheric sentiment of what a year without mother is like.

The author did not mention anything overtly political, even as her narrative was neatly ensconced from within what must have been a tumultuous period in the Soviet Republic. There was a slight mention of a coup d’etat and Gorbachev being taken prisoner, and how Yeltsin came “to the rescue and new life begins in earnest.” Yet, the historical tidbits never really overwhelmed the story line.

It functioned more as a backdrop to the drama of Dasha’s life – as she navigates her way around female friendships, losing best friends, and falling in love with a cool and cute guy who evidently liked someone else. I especially like these portrayal of first loves and heartaches and the rapid shifts of interest that resonate all-too-well. My only peeve with the book has to do with the design and layout, since there are some parts where the text can not clearly be seen against a coloured background.

Regardless, I find this to be a lovely, sparse, distinctly-rendered graphic memoir that conveys growing pains meaningfully, with a dab of self-effacing humour. It also depicts family relationships (divorced family in the 90s, for one) and female friendships in a sensitive and realistic manner that rings true. Definitely a keeper.


#LitWorld2018GB Update: Russia

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

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