The pains of being a teenage girl, illustrated through five generations.
It’s always a joy to see a Singaporean author picked up by an international publisher, especially one as renowned as Canadian company Drawn & Quarterly. And in many ways, Weng Pixin’s unique art style and semi-autobiographical/historical graphic novel Let’s Not Talk Anymore fits the brand perfectly.
In a unique and ambitious narrative, Pixin tells the story of five generations of women from her family, and an experience they each go through at the age of 15. Weaving in and out of each generation, we meet Pixin’s maternal great-grandmother Kuān, who is sent away from China and separated from her family; her grandmother Mèi, who is adopted by a neighbour to help with housework; her mother Bīng, who becomes distanced from her own father; Pixin herself, who faces a difficult relationship with her mother Bīng; and her fictitious future daughter Rita, who looks back on her family history.
Spanning 100 years, the women of Pixin’s family are literally generations apart, each time period clearly differentiated and feeling like a completely different world, yet each story and life are interconnected, holding on to echoes of the past. Pixin’s brightly hued, watercolour landscapes belie each girl’s teenage experience, the pain of growing up evident in each iteration, forced to conform to rules from her family and society. Each of them faces struggles of different forms, from poverty to angst, but Pixin makes each experience feel equally personal and affecting in its own way.
Perhaps Pixin’s greatest strength lies in her selectiveness with words. Never does she need to narrate each woman’s story, carefully picking her words in each speech bubble to tell us exactly what we need to know, giving enough leeway to interpret and feel the unspoken tensions and emotions hanging in the air (helped by the expressiveness of each character, in spite of their dot eyes). The tone is conversational, naturalistic, and characters never need to act out, reacting exactly as one would expect them to. Silences are filled by familiar routines, such as storing money in a Milo tin, or solitary moments, as Kuān hides in the fields feeding her pet grasshopper, or Pixin seats her cat on her lap as she paints.
It is this familiarity in the ordinary that makes Let’s Not Talk Anymore resonate so strongly, with the nostalgia of our own teenage years coming back in full force, of lonely afternoons lost in thought, or the feeling that you just don’t belong. Pixin flits between the comic and deadly serious, and at times, even delivers a hint of magic realism (Kuān spies a lion when she finally arrives in Singapore). Symbolism is rife and beautifully wrought; a worm chewing a hole through a photo of Bīng’s parents, or a distinct patch of mould she draws on a still life of an orange, there is a quiet devastation to these understated moments of grief.
Let’s Not Talk Anymore has no easy endings for any of these women, but by its end, there is comfort how each one finds a connection to plants, animals, and art, almost as if telling us that we will get through the toughest of teenage years. It’s hard to craft a work that lures you in with its cuteness only to leave you crippled by its truth, and Pixin has done that with such a personal touch that it feels wholly original. In its final panels, we see a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, and we know, by virtue of each daughter going on to produce yet another new generation, that their metamorphosis from teenage girls to women will happen, and all this agony, merely temporary.
Recommended for: Readers looking to understand that life is a cycle that repeats over and over, and who need a reminder that the teenage years can be some of the toughest ones in life.
Let’s Not Talk Anymore is published by Drawn & Quarterly and available here