In the winter of 2004, a shy woman named Emma sits in Toby's office. She wants to share this wonderful new book she's reading, but Toby, her therapist, is concerned with other things. Emma is transgender, and has sought out Toby for approval for hormone replacement therapy. Emma has shown up at the therapy sessions as an outgoing, confident young woman named Katina, and a depressed, submissive workaholic named Ed. She has little or no memory of her actions when presenting as these other two people. And then Toby asks about her childhood. As the story unfolds, we discover clues to Emma's troubled past, and how and why these other two people may have come into existence.
One might think that a story largely shown in a therapist’s office would be dry or clinical. In the case of the honest and enthralling The Third Person, that assumption could not be more wrong. Grove’s words are frequently messy, out of order, and beautiful like so many memories. She so clearly communicates grief, pain, hope, determination, and loneliness through not only words but also the eyes, postures, and silhouettes of her characters. This visual emotion, along with the frank and vulnerable dialogue, hits even harder because the art style is so spare. The focus is on the people, their interactions, and our protagonist’s inner turmoil. The conversational nature of the text and the focused art combine to make the novel a fast read, despite the hefty page count. The conclusion of the book makes Grove’s dedication in the opening pages all the more meaningful in retrospect. Readers who can’t get enough of graphic memoir, particularly the works of Alison Bechdel, are the ideal audience for this moving volume.
... an unflinching exploration of how our identities are formed and maintained ... Grove draws on her background in animation to render pages of conversation dynamically, switching angles to signal a change in point of view, and creating a sense of distance between her characters to convey their failure to understand one another, or else zooming in to create unexpected intimacy as they navigate Emma’s complex experience and examine her determination to live on her own terms ...A masterfully crafted, fearlessly vulnerable memoir stressing the importance of coming to terms with trauma in order to better know oneself.
... remarkable ... an ingenious bit of multi-layered wordplay ... The comics medium is a perfect choice of form to deliver the story Grove is telling. Her drawing style might at first look naïve, but nuances emerge: she proves uncommonly adept at depicting the slight physical changes – in facial expression, in posture, in countless body-language tics – that can give a person’s emotional state away no matter how much they might want to conceal it. Formally, too, she incorporates enough variety to keep things fresh ... Grove has created a stunning artistic testament to the spirit and strength of will it required.