Summer 1999. Long Island, New York. Bored, restless, and lonely, Ali never expected her life would change as dramatically as it did the day she walked into the local Stop & Shop. But she's never met anyone like Justine.
A tremendous book: deep, moody and dark, but not without a compelling breathlessness. Teen life, loneliness, sex, body issues, friendship, queerness and familial discord are all finely wrought. The minimalist prose and illustration are no less gorgeous for being sparse. Ali’s pain and her indifference are perfectly captured, and Harmon has threaded the right amount of pop culture into her tale. Pre-cell phones and social media, Ali, Justine and their cohorts pour through magazines to gaze on idealized images of women, watch skate videos again and again, ponder hip-hop lyrics, take whatever drugs they can, and navigate tenuous and exciting relationships. The tragedies here are shattering and mundane.
An uncommon and incomparable coming-of-age story punctuated with enchanting and evocative line drawings, Justine is a highly recommended debut novel.
It doesn’t just share these types of experiences; it feels like they felt. Like dredging up memories I haven’t thought about in years. Remembering a time that was equally full of the reckless abandon of youth and the pressure to fit in. It’s funny … the whole ‘90s style, the aesthetic, has circled back around now. Guess it’s the perfect time for a book like this ... Forsyth Harmon stuns with her debut, Justine, an illustrated novel which, while brief, is not short on impact. Harmon is stunningly perceptive in her ability to convey the experiences of adolescence: The uncertainty of who you are which gets tangled up and lost in assimilating to who you are with. The normal teenage angst which often masks the underlying issues young women face with their bodies and their minds. The particular way friendships at this age are a complicated blend of admiration, envy, love, and hate. The mistakes made and the lessons learned, some not until it’s too late.The prose is amplified by Harmon’s intricate line drawings which serve to flesh out the story without having to say a single word. Simple, yet bold, these stark black and white illustrations help fill the gaps in the reader’s imagination while also spurring further reflection upon the narrative. One without the other would feel incomplete; however with the images and text situated side by side, the book feels whole.
The book is brief, but it packs a punch in its tale of teen angst ... The cover copy promises that the 'sinister' book will “spiral from superficial to seismic,” but Justine never quite gets there ... the queer undertones aren’t fully examined and the plot’s focus often returns to Ryan, the least likeable character, who somehow holds Ali’s loyalty. Harmon’s intention may have been to remind readers what it is like to be a teenager and not know what you want or how to get it...Harmon doesn’t fully deliver on the promised obsession and I wish there was more meat to the girls’ friendship ... Harmon’s illustrations yielded a mixed result. While her drawings of cars and butterflies felt decorative and banal, the daily chart tracking Ali’s weight loss with painstakingly detailed measurements is powerful. I lingered over the picture and felt the hurt of the young girl desperate for a feeling of autonomy ... It’s not fair to base whether you like a book on how the story turns out; there are countless stories that are still beloved despite sad endings. I guess I simply wanted more...Still, I would recommend Justine not just to Millennials like me who are nostalgic for their nineties youth, but to any reader who appreciates writing that takes teen girls’ lives seriously.