Book Review: Blue Is The Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

, by Janine M.

Blue Is The Warmest Color
by Julie Maroh

"Oh that graphic novel that the movie with the extensive lesbian sex scene was based on?"

I haven't watched the French film yet, but this graphic novel deserves accolades of its own.

Does it depict romance between two women? Yes.

Does it include lesbian sex in its pages? Yes.

Does the story revolve around these two topics? No.


"What if, irrespective of gender, our souls find each other, recognize one another, come to love each other?"
- own musing

Blue Is The Warmest Color is a fast, engaging and bittersweet ride. It's also quite short that I was able to finish it in an hour. One could take less time to read it but I would stop every once in a while and let my brain pick at the words and dwell in the emotional pool that the story drew me into.

The novel is posthumously told in Clementine's (fight the urge to sing... "Oh my darling... Oh my darling... Oh my darling... Clementine) point of view, first through a letter to her lover Emma, and subsequently narrating with flashbacks from her journal dating back to her high school days, the prime of her self-discovery. Emma, per Clementine's dying wish for her parents to allow her to gain ownership of her diaries, reads them and we're able to peek into the mind of Clementine as she experiences the pain, alienation, and confusion regarding her identity and developing feelings towards another woman. The words were Clementine's, but it was Emma's imagination and recollection that makes up the novel, I believe.

The heart of this book is not about homosexual love per se, but about a girl entering womanhood with fear of being alienated as she struggles with her identity. Clementine's voice is that of a wide-eyed, excitable, curious, haphazard teenager, which might remind the majority a little of their younger selves. As a young adult still shedding off some juvenile and idealistic tendencies (and having an INFP personality helps as well), I can still tap into Clem's emotional monologue and thinking patterns. Her internal turmoil (homosexual feelings and desires are wrong, wrong, WRONG but it feels so right and within her arms I am home. My parents are homophobic, my friends will mock me and hate me.) is relatable to "newborns" of today.

It's important to note that blue-haired Emma knew Clementine was not strictly homosexual (she could've been an unaware bisexual which she explored quite late into the novel) and that she chose to love her who just happened to be a woman. In part, Clementine reminded me of the protagonist in Every Day by David Levithan, though much less self-aware and self-accepting. Her reading of Clementine's diary is her most intimate reconnection with her after her death, as she has probably learned about who the Emma of those days was in Clem's eyes and heart for the first time.

Emma on the other hand, had her own dilemma in the beginning. She was caught in between what could be true love and her indebtedness to her first love, Sabine. It was Sabine who helped her through her own identity crisis and her social life started with her butch partner's group. She was afraid to dive into the uncertain, initially preferring the safer choice despite her growing unhappiness over her lover's emotional blackmail and infidelity.

Towards the end, the drama escalated. Part one of the climax was when Clem's parents found out about them. The absence of dialogue and reliance on facial expressions and frenzied bodily movement were effective. To a reader that could relate, they could easily fill in with words their own loved ones have said that hurt them. Part two of the climax was Clementine's irreversible mistake. Unable to deal with stark reality (abandonment by her parents, growing distance/misunderstanding/miscommunication with Emma) and still being unable to reconcile her love for Emma and her sexual identity, Clementine commits infidelity. Whether it was an experiment/attempt to change her preference or to divert her feelings (for social/parental acceptance), an act of rebellion against Emma's prodding for her to finally embrace who she has become (Emma was still a passionate participant in sociopolitical activism of the LGBTQ community while in contrast, Clementine treats her sexual identity as a private matter), or a momentary escape from the reality that her choice led her to, we can only speculate. 

Present and most recent events in the graphic novel were in color, while past events were in sepia, black and white peppered with blue to denote the most important details/turning points of Clementine's life. Also, the change from blue to a life full of yellow (Emma's hair included. Ironically, yellow is the warmer color) symbolized the estrangement that was slowly creeping up to the lovers' bed. And using blue over any other color made the best possible title. Blue is commonly thought of as a cool color, creating a good oxymoron in the title. Blue is also associated with sadness, thus it meshes well with the melancholic tone of the novel. It was her love for the blue-haired girl that led to her isolation, and it was the same blue-haired girl's love that kept her warm.

When they were reunited at the beach (care of the awesome best friend Valentin [aptly named] who was Clem's anchor and sounding board), Clem seemingly had a hallucination of a phantom child while Emma was making a sandcastle. Could it represent her aspirations of creating a family with Emma?

While the ending is tragic, allow me to romanticize Clementine's death as the means to finding her peace. At the age of 30, she was stuck in limbo and unaccepting of her own self, resulting to a life in which she cannot fully appreciate Emma anymore. It was hinted that death was by slow suicide (addiction to prescription pills which lead to arterial pulmonary hypertension). While I didn't actually cry, I felt for both women's loss.

All in all, the graphic novel is a good social commentary to a lukewarm acceptance ("tolerance", selectivity and veiled repulsion included) of the LGBTQ community (or to any assumed social deviant) by the current supposedly radical/liberal/modern generation. It's a powerful telling of youth's sexual awakening, a mix of teenage fear and courage to love against discrimination, and how hard reality can bite in the butt.

 Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Some of the best quotes in the graphic novel:

“If I had been a guy, Clem would have fallen in love with me anyway.” - Emma 
"Only love will save the world. Why would I be ashamed to love?" - Emma 
"And little by little, I understood that there were many types of love. We do not choose the one we fall in love with, and our perception of happiness is our own and is determined by what we experience…" - Emma 
"What would you do?"- Clementine
"I would follow my heart." - Valentin 
"Maybe this is eternal love, this mixture of peace and fire." - Emma 
"Emma... you asked me if i believed in eternal love. Love is something way too abstract and indefinable. It depends on what we perceive and what we experience. If we don’t exist, it doesn’t exist. And we change so much; love must change as well. Love catches fire, it trespasses, it breaks, we break, it comes back to life… we come back to life. Love may not be eternal, but it can make us eternal. Beyond death, the love that we shared continues to live.” - Clementine 


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