Guts is the new graphic novel by middle grade powerhouse Raina Telgemeier. It’s the autobiographical story of her struggle to identify and find ways to manage her severe anxiety issues. Telgemeier does a fabulous job relating symptoms that first appear as those similar to a known illness, like the flu. When, by way of elimination, Raina is able to determine her very real physical symptoms of panic attacks, intense fear and worry are due to some anxiety issues she and her parents are then able to determine a plan for treatment.
5th Grade Raina’s journey in these pages is neither, short, nor easy. There is no antibiotic for anxiety that causes it to disappear; it’s more a matter of acknowledging I have a susceptibility to anxiety and learning tools and skills to manage it in a ways that allow me to lead a life in which I can still enjoy the things I love and not be overwhelmed by the things that are difficult.
Raina is embarrassed by her anxiety struggles and doesn’t feel she can share the information with her friends, for fear of their judgment. The resulting isolation simply serves to increase Raina’s fear that ‘there is something wrong’ with her–which, of course, there is NOT. Guts does an excellent job of showing how anxiety is wrapped up in all areas of physical, emotional and social development, further complicating the process of identifying and dealing with the problem. It also serves as a useful tool to reassure young readers with similar experiences that they are not alone and can benefit from having a few close, trusted family and friends with whom they can speak openly about their anxiety.
As an adult (who used to be a kid struggling with anxiety) still dealing with anxiety on a daily basis, I can imagine what a difference a book like Guts would’ve made for me had I read it at age 9 or 10. I can see Guts opening the door for a lot of kids and parents to start a conversations about both a fear of acknowledging they might have BIG anxieties and mobilizing the search for strategies to combat them.
Guts is a great choice for middle grade readers. It offers helpful insights to kids and adults who do NOT experience anxiety and validation to those who do.
TRIGGER WARNING: A lot of Raina’s anxiety issues center around food and getting sick so this is NOT a good choice for a young reader dealing with eating disorder issues.