UK Publisher: First Second
Genre: Non-fiction, autobiography, comics
Also see: Something New
If you work hard enough, if you want it enough, if you’re smart and talented and “good enough,” you can do anything. Except get pregnant. Her whole life, Lucy Knisley wanted to be a mother. But when it was finally the perfect time, conceiving turned out to be harder than anything she’d ever attempted. Fertility problems were followed by miscarriages, and her eventual successful pregnancy was plagued by health issues, up to a dramatic, near-death experience in labour and delivery. Kid Gloves follows Lucy’s personal transition into motherhood, and it also illustrates the history and science of reproductive health from all angles, full of curious facts and inspiring (and notorious) figures in medicine and midwifery.
I have been a big fan of Lucy Knisley’s work for a very long time. Her art style and narrative tone delight me, and Something New was the book I had wished existed when I was planning my own wedding and struggling with how dumb the whole wedding industry is (SO DUMB). It was wonderful for me to hear that someone else had similar struggles, and also see the things she found easy and the things she didn’t.
Knisley has always been extremely open and honest with her audience, and as such I think many of her readers have become invested in her personal story. I began reading her comics when she published them online, and purchased her comic Here at Hogwarts. I feel invested in her story as much as I would a friend.
As my actual friends are having babies, I’m beginning to feel like people are casting glances at my husband and I, since we’ve been married for four years and are just over 30. I’ve been feeling the pressure for a couple of years, even if it isn’t really there. After Something New hit all the right notes for me, I hoped that Kid Gloves would provide me with some insight.
Knisley has always wanted to have a child, she has always been fascinated with the science of pregnancy. More so than Something New, Knisley has put some research into the subject and intersperses her story with the political, medical and social history of babies.
She doesn’t pull her punches in telling her story. She doesn’t shy away from talking about her miscarriages, and what they did to her mental health. She talks about the misconceptions around miscarriages, she lays out the facts clearly and precisely, so other women don’t fall foul of them, and blame themselves for what happened. She’s also very clear that it doesn’t make losing a baby any easier.
For anyone who follows her on social media, it’s not a spoiler to say that she and her husband were able to have a beautiful baby boy, but her successful pregnancy doesn’t mean the journey is over. From there she explores the anxieties she carried with her, her husband’s concerns and anxieties – he had always thought he would never have children, and she deals well with acknowledging that things which comforted her only caused him more stress – and finally with her close shave with eclampsia after her obstetrician ignored her symptoms and concerns.
That section particularly struck me. Knisley’s art is so crisp and joyful, even when she is talking about melancholy subjects, but during the part where she is rushed for an emergency c-section and the symptoms of her eclampsia become worse, she switches to Jon’s POV, because she can’t remember anything. His writing style is markedly different from hers, and she adjusts her art style to match the clear emotion and stress behind his recounting, as he revisits what must have been a terrifying period. Her lines are left as sketches, no colour or shading is added. It communicates so starkly the fears and stresses of the time.
Knisley is eloquent both with her writing and her art, and Kid Gloves shows her continuing at full strength, doing what she does best. I read a review for the book which described her as a ‘graphic essayist’, which seems fitting. But where Filmish, another graphic essay, perhaps felt a little dry or overly academic at times, Knisley’s work is always intensely personal. It feels almost like a conversation with a close friend – she has clearly digested so much information and put so much intense research into her work, but she then translates it into something so accessible and understandable. Her books read like she is a kind, joyful, and considered person.
As with Something New, this is a beautiful edition. The two books sit beautifully beside each other on my shelf, and they feel nice to read. They feel like extremely special items and I am so glad I have them. Each chapter has its own art for the title page, alternating between pictures of Lucy herself as she progresses through her pregnancy, photographs of herself and Jon and their growing bump, and then imagined images in the centre of entirely black pages, of their baby.
This is a book full of sadness and stress, but also joy and love, and that is encapsulated in the photograph for the Afterword, of the whole family together and smiling. And then, the final picture of the book, the last image you see, is cartoon-Lucy with her cartoon-son, full of delight with each other. That’s where Knisley really sets herself apart. She is introspective, considered, honest, and able to bring joy too. Her works leave me feeling very warm inside.
- A beautiful, honest, and well-researched book that addresses common misconceptions and social expectations around pregnancy, whilst also looking at the personal impact pregnancy and loss can have.
- Knisley’s art and writing are so fluent and complementary, she is exceptional in the works she creates, and First Second do a wonderful job of publishing them.
- I am not sure if it would be as effective if you had not read Something New, and come into this with an awareness of Lucy and Jon’s relationship and the stakes in it, but at the same time she is such a charming and open writer that I can’t imagine anyone not engaging with her.
Rating: 5/5 – I can’t wait for her next book.