Savanna Ganucheau (artist), Kevin Panetta (writer)
First Second Books
January 29, 2019
Bloom is the story of Ari Kyrkos, a Greek teenager who feels suffocated by the expectation he’ll continue working in his family’s struggling bakery. Unable to afford to go to music school, he wants to move to the city with his friends to see if they can make something of themselves with their band, but his father won’t have it. In an attempt to get him to change his mind, Ari hires someone to help out around the bakery—Hector Gallea, a Samoan teenager who’s as kind as he is strong. Hector’s calming presence and passion for baking start to change things in Ari’s life as the two teens, slowly and naturally, fall in love.
My first reaction to this book was something along the lines of “this is extremely cute and good, oh my god, it’s so cute,” interspersed between incoherent babbling. Seriously, that’s how cute it is. Savanna Ganucheau’s art stuns me. It’s simple, even understated, with its two-tone coloring, but it tugs at my emotions in ways I simply didn’t expect. My favorite pages have no words at all, but they convey a sense of calmness and longing that stuck with me long after I was finished reading.
I spent time debating if I wanted to categorize Bloom as “ultimately” a coming of age story or “ultimately” a love story. The truth is that it’s inseparably both. Ari’s uncertainty about what he wants to do with his future underpins everything—particularly his feelings for Hector, which act as both a complication and a potential solution for Ari’s questions, which ultimately crystallize as “what do I want?”
As a coming of age story, it’s relatable. The uncertainty Ari is grappling with is perfectly characteristic of his age—I’ve graduated high school, what now? Ari feels extremely real, especially when he acts in ways that are frustrating. Sometimes the way he acts doesn’t match the way he says he feels, and it makes me want to grab him by the shoulders and demand to know why he’s being like this, but essentially it just makes him feel very real. That realness also extends to his friends, who talk and interact exactly the way a real group of friends would.
But more than the characters being very human, it touches on very human themes—not knowing what you want, feeling the joy being sucked out of something you once loved because you come to associate it with obligation, the experience of growing up and finding the value in taking responsibility for your own actions.
As a love story, it embraces a trope that the world could use more of: it’s a queer romance where being queer is not part of the drama of it. At no point did anyone say a bigoted word or even express any self-angst in regard to this mlm-romance, and it was beautiful and refreshing. Love in Bloom is expressed in the small things. It’s the beauty of doing something simple, like baking, with someone you love. There’s a dance to it. You can see it in the way Ari and Hector coexist with each other in the kitchen. You can feel the comfort that blooms and flows between them. I found it quietly breathtaking.
I was also completely charmed by the extras that were included at the end of the book. In addition to some very cute concept art, there was a playlist for a mixtape made by Hector for Ari, which is a perfect summer road trip bop. It also featured the recipe for the Kyrkos family’s famous sourdough rolls, which is pretty much the cutest inclusion I can imagine.
They were a little too advanced for my personal baking skills, but fellow WWAC contributor Kate Tanski offered to try her hand at the recipe, which she noted as complex and time-consuming, appropriate for an intermediate to advanced baker. She also pointed out the things that made it unique—the use of olive oil, which is both very Greek and gave it a strong flavor; the fact that it uses three types of flour, including a sourdough starter, which is often handed down between generations; and the fact that it wouldn’t be reproducible with a bread machine! She called it, in fact, a labor of love, which represents Bloom so beautifully. And she ended up with some great rolls from it!
It’s not every day that you’ll come across a graphic novel with the reserved honesty and wholesome romance that Bloom seems to serve up effortlessly—and it’s not to be missed.