Title: The Greatest Thing
Author/Illustrator: Sarah Winifred Searle
Published: May 2022
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Readership: Young Adult
Format: Graphic Novel
Content Warnings: Depression, insomnia, eating disorder, self-harm
I received a copy of The Greatest Thing from the publishers for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
This tender YA comic is perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Drama and Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends who are ready to graduate to their first teen graphic novel.
It’s the first day of Grade Ten, and Winifred is going to reinvent herself. Now that her two best (and only) friends have transferred to a private school, Win must navigate high school on her own. Luckily, she isn’t alone for long. In art class, she meets Oscar and April. They don’t look or act like the typical teenagers in her town: they’re creative, a little rebellious and seem comfortable in their own skin in a way that Win can only dream of.
But even though Winifred is breaking out of her shell, there’s one secret she can’t bear to admit to April and Oscar, or even to herself – and this lie threatens everything. Win needs to face her own truths, but she doesn’t need to do it alone. Through the healing power of clandestine sleepovers, op-shopping and zine publishing, Win finds and accepts what it means to be herself.
Winifred’s starting her sophomore year of high school without her two best friends – who’ve moved to a new school – and she needs to adjust to being on her own… although this doesn’t last long. She meets Oscar and April, two students in an art class, and the bond over the things they have in common, most important of which is the fact that they don’t quite fit in with everyone else. But all three of them have secrets and even though her new friends begin to confide in her, Winifred is hesitant to share hers.
This is a very powerful coming of age story that the author notes is based on some of their own experiences. It’s a very relatable story of feeling like you don’t fit in, trying to find peers that you relate to and growing up. The characters are all very relatable, and there’s a nuance to the way their friendship flows and ebbs throughout the story. No single character is perfect – their flaws, imperfections and character growth shines through the whole book.
Winifred is a plus-size, queer artist who is beginning to find herself in her artwork, and she’s assisted in producing a zine alongside her newfound friends Oscar and April. Her choices throughout the book don’t always lead her to her expected outcomes, and while not everything is easy, she works her way through them to the end of the story. So while the story is often sombre, there are moments of brightness that lend it some positivity.
The artwork in this graphic novel is beautiful and the emotions come through in the character art. I loved the addition of the comic within a comic and Winifred and Oscar co-create a zine, with the extra storyline adding to the main narrative.
I love that there is a strong emphasis on art being an outlet for people and for adults seeing that need and advocating for students in this story as well.