(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)
Introduction: With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I decided I would write my next comic review on 12 Reasons Why I Love Her from the publisher Oni Press. Written by Jamie S. Rich and pencilled by Joëlle Jones, this graphic novel uses twelve vignettes (small stories)—illustrated in black and white and arranged out-of-order, chronologically-speaking—to give readers peeks at a romance between its two main characters, Evan and Gwen. I stumbled upon 12 Reasons by happenstance, but the use of this narrative style intrigued me enough to give it a chance.
Plot Summary: 12 Reasons Why I Love Her follows two young adults, Evan and Gwen, as they develop a romantic relationship. To describe the story in chronological order, the graphic novel depicts the couple as their relationship forms and develops. They meet by chance and set up a first date, which goes horribly. After deciding to try again, Evan and Gwen hit things off and begin dating. They get to know each other, and they banter or even occasionally argue, like many actual couples do. When a wrench from Gwen’s past is thrown into their relationship (I am refraining from spoiling too much), the two have a falling-out, but they ultimately decide to apologize and get back together.
Plot Analysis: The plot of 12 Reasons is fairly simple and straightforward, but that detail does not detract from the experience I had whilst reading it. In fact, I enjoyed how the vignettes provided snippets into these characters’ lives. The graphic novel did not aim to deliver a grandiose romantic drama. Instead, it offers a realistic relationship with realistic characters who deal with real-life issues. Some critics of 12 Reasons argue that they prefer their romantic tales to have more substance, and while I understand that sentiment to a point, the narrative style of this work feels intentional. If Rich and Jones sought to tell a story that features snapshot moments of the couple’s lives, then they succeeded in their goal, and I do not fault them for meeting that goal. The authenticity of each scene is what ultimately captivated me—even if that realness ended up resulting in a simple and straightforward plot.
Despite the plot of the graphic novel not winning awards for originality, the narrative structure struck out as something I had not often experienced before. I have read plenty of stories that start in the middle, shift into flashback, and then resume in the present. However, a story where each chapter was found at a different point in the timeline tickled my intellectual fancy. I find it amusing how a comic whose story I just described as “simple” can have such a complex narrative structure. I understand some people may not appreciate this back-and-forth storytelling style. It more-or-less forces the reader to put the pieces together him/herself. Some people are not fans of a story making them put in work to understand it, and if any of you fall into that camp, you are fully within your right. We all have different preferences when it comes to stories and how we like them to be told. I personally enjoyed “solving the puzzle” and determining where the events fall on the timeline, but perhaps my enjoyment of that mental exercise originates from my background in reading from a major publisher (primarily DC Comics) and cataloguing in my brain where those varying stories are placed within continuity. Furthermore, the timeline “mystery” invites a second reading, and I think a text that can convince someone to read it again is usually a good one. Anyhow, I digress.
Because the last two vignettes of the graphic novel are the couple’s blowout breakup and their first encounter, I can understand how that sort of ending would feel somewhat abrupt and unsettling. However, the actual ending (chronologically) is a few chapters earlier, which shows the two patching things up. I hope people who read this comic understand that the tale itself ends on a happier note. Although, the placement of the falling-out and union at the end must be intentional and thereby important. My interpretation of this non-linear structure is that it signifies that relationships are not clear-cut. Not all romances have distinguishable endings, and the state of a relationship can be in flux. In 12 Reasons, the last vignette on the timeline, chronologically, is Evan and Gwen getting back together. However, we do not know if this couple lives happily ever after. Similarly, despite however we may feel, none of us ultimately know, definitively, how a romantic relationship will progress. I believe the out-of-order structure supports this notion.
Characterization: Evan and Gwen are certainly a match for each other. They are both passionate people who are not scared to express their feelings, even their angry ones. Earlier, I used the word “authentic” to describe 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. This term is especially applicable regarding the two main characters. They remind me of real people, voicing real opinions and concerns and having real conversations. Yes, these two argue, but they also show genuine love. These characters would not feel as “alive” to me as they do had it not been for Rich’s scripts. His use of dialogue is remarkably well-done, and most of the charm of this graphic novel, for me, is derived from the humorous banter and other moments of dialogue between Evan and Gwen. In short, the two are cute together, and I hope that their relationship works out beyond the ending the story provided.
Evan is a middle school English teacher who feels that allowing young people at that age to engage with classic literature and discuss the real-world issues found within is beneficial to their emotional wellbeing. Yes, Evan is a romantic. However, he also unfortunately has a short fuse at times and can end up more upset than he probably should be. Still, he recognizes his mistakes and takes the initiative to apologize. He is flawed, but so is everyone. Evan is more reserved on certain subjects, which is in juxtaposition to Gwen’s liberal stance on some maters. On that note, Gwen is more outspoken and very sassy (something I find charming). She likes foreign films and Barry Manilow (which Evan teases her about). Gwen can be a little assertive, and she stands by her personal beliefs. She is self-reflective and deeply enjoys the season of autumn and all the visual elements the season manifests. She is self-assured enough to tell off an elderly lady who was being verbally abrasive to her, but she is shown to sometimes not fully understand her feelings. And, naturally, Gwen likes uncouth jokes. Anyhow, despite only having short chapters to learn about these characters, Rich provides an ample amount of characterization for them, and I believe they balance each other.
Art: Jones’ art is stellar. She gives Evan and Gwen identifiable physical features that could make them discernible in a crowd, no matter what outfit they may be wearing. Evan, particularly, has an interesting haircut that leaves me impressed with how consistently Jones draws him. Furthermore, Jones molds her art so that it matches the tone of the story Rich is telling at the time. Having this story being told in black and white does not bother me in the slightest, given the way Jones draws the characters with such personality and physical expressiveness. In one scene, Gwen is romancing Evan with a special attire to celebrate their Paper (one-year) Anniversary, and Jones draws both Gwen’s countenance and her body’s stance with a notable level of seductiveness.
Final Remarks: Rich and Jones take risks in approaching this story, given the unorthodox narrative structure and whatnot, but all-in-all, I found the high quality dialogue and art to surpass any other qualms I would have had regarding this graphic novel. Perhaps you are reading this review and thinking that this book is not for you, and that line of thinking is perfectly okay. Nevertheless, I found 12 Things I Love About Her to be quite charming, and I believe that even someone who usually is not a fan of sequential art storytelling could appreciate this graphic novel. This story was originally published in 2006 in paperback, but an anniversary edition was published in 2016 in hardback. I actually bought this hardcover version for my girlfriend for Valentine’s, as she loves romantic stories (let’s see if she reads this review and learns what one of her gifts is; she has been playfully asking for weeks, so I am giving her a chance to learn a day early; stay tuned).
Warning: The characters in the graphic novel occasionally use explicit language.
Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. If you have any thoughts on the comic or on my review, feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day.