REVIEW: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Huzzah, I found French Milk, thanks to a colleague that loaned me her copy (thanks, Jenn)! If you’ll remember, I was on a mission to find this thing.

A young 22-year-old woman, Lucy, and her mother decide to take a month-long trip to Paris together. They rent a darling apartment in the fifth arrondissement and explore the city from there. They see monuments and museums, but there are also instances where they’re hanging out in the Laundromat and using public toilets. Friends and family come to visit them and, naturally, they eat their way through the city. There is also a darling episode where mother and daughter get haircuts together “so we could go home looking frenchy and coiffed.” Then they do go home with a better understanding of each other and themselves…at least, that’s the impression you get.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, and Lucy Knisley really grasps the sense of place. Truly, reading this does make you wish you were in Paris, shopping at flea markets and eating croissants. Her descriptions and drawings of food were particularly appealing to me, of course. And their cuisine is so varied: Moroccan, French country, farmers’ market fare, cookies, café cuisine, and chocolate. Lucy eats foie gras like it grows on trees, and she develops a particular fondness for the rich, unpasteurized milk in France (thus, the title of the book). I also enjoyed Lucy’s imaginative touches: during a Laundromat mishap, she compares herself and her mother to Lucy and Ethel; she confesses that she sings the soundtrack to Funny Face under her breath most of the trip. In addition to being an autobiographical graphic novel (graphic journal?), Knisley also incorporates her own photos into the book, which provides a very personal and welcome touch: a picture of Lucy kissing Oscar Wilde’s grave, a picture of her mom leaning over the railing of the Tour Eiffel to get a better picture, and pictures of food.

That’s not to say that the book doesn’t have its problems, and I’m wondering if any of these will be addressed once Simon and Schuster reissues the book this year. First, one doesn’t really get a sense of Lucy’s relationship with her mother. The back of the book makes some mention of their “shifting relationship” as Lucy faces post-college life and her mother approaches 50…but I really got no sense of conflict or tension at all. Lucy makes references to conflicts with her boyfriend, but the reader never finds out what’s going on there. It didn’t bother me so much, but there really wasn’t a traditional story arc (or, one could argue, a story at all). They go to France, experience the city, and go home. Voila. I might have liked it better if there was a sense of personal journey, a stronger focus on Lucy’s self-discovery. And I definitely wanted to know more about Lucy’s mom. In true fashion for a 22-year-old, this book is all about Lucy: her appetite, her boyfriend, her insecurities, her menstrual cramps, her future. But her mom truly is part of this story so she should have been fleshed out, especially since Lucy’s friend David visits them and I got a much better sense of David as a person than the mom. Again, it’s typical of a 22-year-old protagonist to put her friends center-stage rather than her mother.

Overall, French Milk is a choice read for any teenage Francophile...or, in my case, any armchair-traveling, young-adult-book-loving, grown-up Francophile.

Other information:

Article about the book at PW

Lucy's website, Stop Paying Attention

Review of French Milk at Oops...Wrong Cookie

Review of French Milk at Try Harder

Lucy's awesome livejournal

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree. I just finished Lucy's book. I kept wondering about the relationship between Lucy and her mother because she mentioned their shifting relationship at the back of the book. But there was no "arc" to their relationship. They did a lot of stuff got together but I didn't get a true sense of either Lucy's emotional life or her mother's. I would have liked to have known about how her mother felt about turning 50. Also, why didn't her mother's husbad come along? Why did Lucy's father come instead? I wondered what feelings Lucy had about their divorce.

Lucy surely has a rich emotional life and I for one would like to see more of it.

My favorite part were not the meals or the shopping trips but the mysterious things she was finding in the apartment - the funny picture of the cat on the walls, and the ball bearings. They were mysterious and I felt Lucy should have looked at these clues more closely.