My first reaction to reading Dear Mini was one of disbelief. That somebody, in this case author, Natalie Norris, had the tenacity to speak out about sexual assault. Telling her side of the story not as some cathartic moment of cautionary self-actualization, but rather, telling this tale as it was. A genuine uncomfortable truth. Delving into the hows of what happened to her, and most paramount, the precursory situation at home as to why.
From my experience in the field of psychology, it is hard to process post-traumatic moments without some degree of redirection toward internalization. Self-blame coming from a feeling of a loss of safety, and most importantly, the inability to be honest with one’s self. It is something that can take years to process. It is why this is such a rare read. This insight into something this raw, this accurate, and most of all, this painful uncomfortable truth. It’s the type of conversation I find lacking in entertainment today, which has been wary of anything beyond sequels and franchise opportunities and just sheer, outright, escapism as of late.
That said, Natalie Norris’ 2020 thesis, Dear Mini, has been picked up for publication by one of the oldest-running comic publishers, Fantagraphics. A coming-of-age tale that finds itself meandering into territories of teenage year authenticity of that era, Dear Mini is an evocative graphic memoir that serves as a poignant exploration of the author’s formative years. A teenage journey of a young woman coming into her own, marred by experiences of sexual assault, PTSD, and the indomitable spirit of resilience. This debut work is the first installment of a two-book series, slated to be completed in 2025.
In the story, Norris adeptly crafts a bittersweet coming-of-age tale that transcends mere cautionary tropes. It emerges as a vivid and multifaceted portrayal of adolescent agency in the face of traumatic circumstances, tracing the protagonist’s transformative journey from an unruly and untamed youth to an individual who reclaims her voice after a protracted period of muted existence regarding the trauma of what happened.
Epistolary in nature, Dear Mini takes the form of an illustrated missive addressed to a cherished old friend. It recounts the author’s journey to France following her sophomore year of high school, where she enrolled in a language immersion program. There, she serendipitously encounters Mini, an Austrian student who shares her proclivity for illicit exploits, forging an immediate and profound connection. At least, until the pair had to end their summer sojourn and part ways.
Returning home ten months later to Europe, it is after Natalie’s first sexual experiences–one’s where she left felt utterly taken advantage of–when an enigmatic shift in perception of her world has transpired. Catalyzing into a cataclysmic turn in her and Mini’s nocturnal escapades. Which became filled with sexual energy and mindless indulgent intent.
Living now, in a post-traumatic state of ennui, a sort of numb feeling where the only solace she could find was in the desire of other men, Natalie’s experiences in Austria shift from wanton traveler, to instead, a journey of a girl seeking longing connections and the physical need to be held. Her finding comfort only in the arms of an external other that then escalates into a situation of sensory excess.
It’s a solace that feels exploitive in personal vulnerabilities and an all too-real losing one’s self for feelings of being secure. With the story, inevitably leading to a harrowing tale of isolation and getting taken advantage of in a land and language that was foreign to her.
As a technique, Norris employs an exuberant and free-flowing artistic style, rich with vibrant page designs and resplendent full-color cartooning, animating her unfiltered voice and persona with remarkable authenticity. This artistic approach lends Dear Mini an exceptional allure, distinguishing it as a most remarkable graphic novel debuts of the year 2023.
As someone who’s worked in the mental health space, this graphic novel was definitely in-line to a lot of stories of what I hear happens. Especially, with regards to how many tales like these get unspoken about. What you read here, is an often hard to speak about recount, filled with embodiment of what it’s like to be the person this happens to and the context about how these situations occur.
If we’re lucky, perhaps a reader with a similar story, can relate to this tale and feel a little bit better that they’re not alone. Maybe even get the help that’s needed before it’s too late… though it all comes down to being able to speak with someone about it.
Which is why I believe this is a brave book to publish.
Personally, this was also very hard for me to review. This story reminded me very much of a girl I once knew. Someone I was once in love with, set in the same year, of all the characters in this story, about circa 2011. She was someone also of that generation, about a decade ago, who had very similar experiences as Natalie. She also spent time traveling across the world, coming back to America, and figuring her life out in while in college, which is where we met and shared her story – which as I’m seeing here in Natalie’s debut, is one that happens more often than not, but stays silent for far too long. I won’t say her name out of respect. I thought one day, I would end up writing the tale of our friendship, but as I got older, realized her story wasn’t mine to tell. I am glad that someone like Natalie Norris has taken the task upon her. As it reminded me of my one-time dear friend.
There is something to that developmental period in life and that age of exploring your own sexuality. Expectations and expressions lost in translation, in a communicative unfettered reality of too much pornography, not enough honesty, and a whole lot of #MeToo discussions to come out circa 2016. A different era than the lives us older Millennials lived from 2008-2015.
I think the discourse now is better regarding hooking up and even dating. It’s very different in how the next generation talks about sexual experiences compared to those years. There is, at least from what I’ve seen, a rift within our generation with a lot to unpackage and a thematic trauma that needs to be talked about regarding consent. Which is why we need graphic novels like Dear Mini to lead the way.
You can follow Natalie Norris on Instagram.
Dear Mini is available to order on July 4th, 2023.