If there’s one thing to know about me — YA Contemporary is definitely not usually my favorite genre — but I had to write a review for this book because it’s now one of my favorite YA Contemporary books of all time, and because it managed to carve out a new, special little place in my heart.
Verona Comics, by Jennifer Dugan, follows two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop, and is a queer You’ve Got Mail meets Romeo & Juliet tale. Prior to reading this book, I’d read the debut YA novel by this author, Hot Dog Girl, which was a fun and light-hearted rom-com that I really enjoyed reading. However, though Verona Comics is also a romance, it is a much heavier story. So, I’d like to put content/trigger warnings for the book before I dive into my review.
CW: depression, mention of suicide/suicide ideation/attempted suicide, car accident, biphobia/homophobia, abusive parents
Alright, on to my review! I’m writing this a week or so after I finished reading (I needed to let it ~simmer~ first), so I’ll be pretty vague with the plot details — but hey, I’m keeping this review SPOILER-FREE for y’all so it works out.
Verona Comics had so many elements that I adored, and the premise revolving around an indie comic book store was a delight. I love getting to read books that place a lot of love around cons, fandom, and just in general reading and bookstores and all the things readers love! This story is told from the point of view of both Jubilee and Ridley, a teenage girl and boy. The main plot conflict is that while there is a love story brewing between Jubilee and Ridley, Jubilee’s Moms own an indie bookstore, and Ridley’s Dad owns a big, corporate competitor that is threatening their business (here’s where you get the You’ve Got Mail and Romeo and Juliet).
Ridley meets Jubilee at a con event, but she doesn’t know his real identity — which is a pretty big point of contention throughout the book. Ridley has a very strained relationship with his father and mother, who are absent, manipulative, and abusive. In order to continue his relationship with Jubilee he has to keep his identity a secret when his Dad manipulates him into spying on the comic book store. Ridley’s mental health is a pretty major narrative in this book (this is what I’m talking about when I say this book is heavy), and all the lies he has to tell throughout the book make his struggle with depression and anxiety more challenging to cope with. Though his struggle with his mental health was hard to read at times, there was a beautiful vulnerability and tenderness in Dugan’s portrayal of his mental health that connected with me.
I’m not going to get too much into Jubilee and Ridley’s romance — but it’s swoonworthy, sweet, and so, so tender. Another aspect I loved of Verona Comics was how the two main characters’ queerness was validated and cherished within their relationship — Ridley identifies as bisexual, and Jubilee doesn’t really define herself with any particular label — though she has liked men, women, and people who are nonbinary. Jubilee is also questioning her identity/label at times during the book, and I loved getting to see questioning rep. Neither of their identities is ever invalidated because they aren’t dating someone of the same gender/someone nonbinary, and there were also more queer identities represented in the side characters, as well.
Verona Comics sweeps you up with its charming love story, and holds that love even through tumultuous storms of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and despair. But, it also has some really important points about the realities and challenges of relationships and individual struggles with mental health. As in, you can’t love away someone’s illness — love isn’t a magical fix-all drug that can cure depression and anxiety. I think that’s a really hard thing for us to navigate in life, something that can be hard to admit and accept. But it’s also something important to recognize. I think, especially for young teens who might read this book, there’s a really important message about learning how to recognize co-dependency, set boundaries, and know when to ask for help.
There is an equally important message in Verona Comics as well — that no matter your mental health and sense of self-worth, you are still worthy of love. At one point Ridley mentions something his sister had said: “You can’t love anybody else until you love yourself.” However, he has since learned that this statement isn’t true after falling in love with Jubilee. I can’t even begin to describe how hard that line, and that chapter, hit me. I remember hearing essentially the same phrase so often throughout my middle school and high school years, that “you have to learn to love yourself before you can love anybody else.” Unlearning that idea is something I’m still working on. Verona Comics doesn’t shy away from the ugly and painful realities of mental illness and the burdens it places on people and relationships — but never for a second does it imply that Ridley is less-than, or less worthy of love because of this. While there was so much in this book that I adored, I felt that this message was the most impactful for me. So, just in case any of you reading this need the reminder — remember that even on your worst days, you’re still worthy of love — even when you’re not capable of giving that love to yourself.
This review was a bit all over the place, but it’s just because this book had such an emotional impact on me that it’s making it hard for me to get coherent thoughts strung into a sentence. BUT. I will attempt a semi-decent conclusion here.
Verona Comics is a compelling story of first love, and a tender and honest narrative of learning how to navigate a healthy relationship when your partner is affected by mental illness. This story is both heart-warming and heart-breaking; bittersweet and compassionate. I can’t recommend a more poignant and touching read of young love and mental health struggles. At its core, Verona Comics is a tenderhearted story of learning how to love and how to be loved — and how to recognize ourselves as worthy of giving and receiving that love.
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Verona Comics here: