When it comes to dishing out advice to their teenage selves, people don’t hesitate; interestingly, though, there are far fewer posts on how their teenage selves would advise them. Imagine, then, the conversation an older and younger self would have were they to ever meet. This is exactly what Carole Maurel has done in her graphic novel for YA and adult readers, Luisa, Now and Then, which was a GLLI Translated YA Book Prize Honor Book in 2020.
Luisa, 32, is a food photographer with a short temper and a fear of commitment in relationships. One day, her 15-year-old self time travels from the 1990s and turns up on her doorstep in Paris, armed with a Walkman, a small backpack, and no idea of how to get home. Confusion ensues as the two women start to realize their connection to each other; so, too, does self-discovery—and the journey to self-fulfillment—as each gradually reveals her hopes and fears to the other.
This might sound deep and, indeed, Carole Maurel does cover some big and sensitive issues in Luisa, Now and Then, such as unrealized career aspirations. (“You take pictures of steak and pizzas?” the younger Luisa asks in disbelief). There is also a keen focus on the denial and acceptance of their sexual identity by the two Luisas, and the role they and their family members play in this.
As older Luisa tells her 15-year-old self:
“You know damn well you can feel things for girls. You don’t have to hide.”
But these themes are explored in a lively storyline that is full of intrigue from start to finish, in both dialogue and illustrations, making it easy to finish this graphic novel in one sitting. I particularly enjoyed the arrival of teenage Luisa in a Paris where much is unfamiliar to her. She tries to use a phone card in a kiosk while her older self walks by with a mobile phone. And she realizes that the date on a home computer reads 2013 while readers will have spotted her 1994-95 school diary. There is some marvelous detail in Maurel’s expressive and insightful illustrations, which also use different color palettes to indicate different periods of time: purple and orange dominate the contemporary Luisa scenes, while events from the 1990s are depicted in black and white.
The dialogue, deftly translated from the original French by Nanette McGuinness and adapted by Mariko Tamaki, is natural-sounding and full of sass. And the use of slang, such as “It’ll be killer” and “Mind your own beeswax” by the older Luisa as she morphs into her younger self will have some readers laughing out loud.
Whether you’re a teen with hopes, fears and questions around your sexual identity, a thirty-something whose life is not quite on track, or a reader simply interested in an original, engaging graphic novel, Luisa, Now and Then is a great choice.
Luisa, Now and Then was originally published in French under the title Luisa, ici et là by La Boîte à Bulles, 2016.
Luisa, Now and Then written and illustrated by Carole Maurel
Adapted by Mariko Tamaki
Translated from French by Nanette McGuinness
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT and IBBY Australia. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com