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  • Samantha Ceballos

Communidad y Familia in Samuel Teer and Mar Julia’s Brownstone: Review by Samantha Ceballos

Updated: Jul 15


image of graphic novel and author and artist
Mar Julia and Samuel Teer

Being a teenager comes with a lot of challenges and a lot of questions. Imagine being a teenager on your way to stay with your father for three months. Doesn’t sound too bad, except for the fact that you have never met your father, until now.

 

girl enters house with dad
Almudena Enters Papá Xavier's Brownstone

Brownstone, written by Samule Teer and illustrated by Mar Julia, tells the story of soon-to-be 15-year-old Almudena and her experience meeting her father, Xavier, for the first time. When Almudena’s mother gets a chance to tour with a dance company in Europe for three months, Almudena has a chance of her own to finally get to ask the questions she’s had about her father and to learn about her heritage.


girl frustrated because she doesn't speak Spanish
Alumdena realizes her papá doesn't speak English

The awkward encounter between father and daughter only gets more awkward as Almudena realizes her father does not speak much English. Anxiety is high as her mother leaves and leaves Almudena alone to figure things out in a strange new place with many new people. As the story progresses, we learn that Xavier is renovating a brownstone into an apartment building. His hope? To provide housing for those in need as a way to pay back the generosity he was given when he first came to the US.

 

Things get a bit trickier when Almudena meets Xavier’s love interest, Idola, and her son, Beto. Idola is the catalyst for Almudena’s identity crisis in the book. Almudena did not question her heritage until she was told by Idola that what Almudena knew as her culture was not hers. Almudena knew about Mexican culture, but she and her family were Guatemalan. Almudena did not grow up surrounded by Guatemalan culture, but instead she grew up in American culture. Almudena is made to feel like an outsider for not being “Latina” enough.

 

Almudena finds her father collapsed on the floor of the brownstone after having suffered an accident while painting a wall. As Almudena and others from her community anxiously wait in the hospital for news on Xavier, Idola discovers Almudena is about to turn 15. The lens of seeing Almudena as a child changes within Idola and others attitudes towards Almudena also shift in the story. Almudena goes to visit her father in his room and secret planning soon begins to help Almudena celebrate her quinceañera.

The lens of seeing Almudena as a child changes within Idola and others attitudes towards Almudena also shift in the story.

Teer finds a way to discuss language barriers, immigration, missing/absent parents, Latinidad/ identity, homophobia, community making, gentrification, and self-acceptance all in a compelling narrative with characters I personally felt connected to. Readers go along the journey and feel the happiness, anxiety, anger, frustration, and community that builds throughout the graphic novel.

Teer finds a way to discuss language barriers, immigration, missing/absent parents, Latinidad/ identity, homophobia, community making, gentrification, and self-acceptance all in a compelling narrative with characters I personally felt connected to.
Mom with son
Idola introduces Beto to Almudena

While the story focuses on Almudena and her father, there were moments where I wanted to know more about some of the minor characters we were introduced to throughout. Readers learn a bit more about Beto and some of the things he is going through personally, but I wanted more. His storyline is one that allows for readers to learn more about his mom’s history as a young woman but at times, the jump between the two storylines left me wanting to understand Beto more. Despite wanting to know more about characters such as Beto, Tomaz, Lorena and others, what this graphic novel gives us is powerful and compelling.


Girl at corner shop
Almudena at the neighborhood bodega

Mar Julia and Ashanti Fortson work together to bring the narrative to life in a beautiful way. The soft colors and detailed artwork present on each page allows the reader to become immersed in the storyline. Scenes have great details, from the construction work to the grocery store shelves, the visuals present in the pages are impressive.  With that said, the artists make sure not to overwhelm the reader. The pages are balanced out by simple panels that feature the character and their dialogue with a solid, well thought out, color background. The solid backgrounds are made to match the emotions happening in the moment.


The move between complex and simple panels is a great pairing as the reader gets to see the world around the characters in detail, but the simple panels allow readers a moment to sit with the characters and their emotions a bit longer. The character designs are equally as impressive. Each character is uniquely their own. I loved seeing such a wide representation of Latinidad within the Brownstone community. Having such representation is powerful and important. It is a reminder that there is no one way to be Latinx. (Also, an important point made in the narrative.) The pacing of art and dialogue keeps one engaged and wanting more. Each chapter is framed with an image of the brownstone, reminding the reader that the construction happening is what continues to bring father and daughter together, but the brownstone is also the center of the family/friend community surrounding them.

Each character is uniquely their own. I loved seeing such a wide representation of Latinidad within the Brownstone community.

The character designs are equally as impressive. Each character is uniquely their own. I loved seeing such a wide representation of Latinidad within the community, and having such representation is powerful and important. It is a reminder that there is no one way to be Latinx. The pacing of art and dialogue keeps one engaged and wanting more. Each chapter is framed with an image of the brownstone, reminding the reader that the construction happening is what continues to bring father and daughter together, but the brownstone is also the center of the family community.

 I loved seeing such a wide representation of Latinidad within the community, and having such representation is powerful and important.

This graphic novel was a labor of love. The narrative and artwork tell a story that needs to be shared. Reading Brownstone brought out emotions in me that I was not expecting. Going on this adventure with Almudena and her communidad was such a joy.

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1 Comment


iriswhispers
Jul 05

Thank you for this great review! Definitely adding this to my syllabus for my Latina/o/x literature course in the spring

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