Living With Viola by Rosena Fung is a graphic novel all about Olivia, a girl with anxiety. This middle grade story is a quick, engaging read. Though it didn’t click with me and my experience with anxiety, I think it has a ton of kid appeal.

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The summary, from Amazon:

Heartbreakingly honest and quietly funny, this #ownvoices graphic novel from a debut creator is a refreshingly real exploration of mental health, cultural differences, and the trials of middle school.

Livy is already having trouble fitting in as the new girl at school—and then there’s Viola. Viola is Livy’s anxiety brought to life, a shadowy twin that only Livy can see or hear. Livy tries to push back against Viola’s relentless judgment, but nothing seems to work until she strikes up new friendships at school. Livy hopes that Viola’s days are numbered. But when tensions arise both at home and at school, Viola rears her head stronger than ever. Only when Livy learns how to ask for help and face her anxiety does she finally figure out living with Viola.

Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a charming, deeply personal story that combines the poignancy of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts with the wacky humor of Lumberjanes. Exuberant, colorful art brings Livy’s rich imaginative world—filled with everything from sentient dumplings to flying unicorns—to life on the page.

Buy Living with Viola here.

Olivia thinks of her anxiety as Viola, a mirror image of her who is constantly feeding her toxic, worrying thoughts. Viola follows Olivia everywhere she goes. Olivia feels a lot of pressure to be a good daughter, and after overhearing a conversation among her family, worries her anxiety prevents that. She also experiences anxiety at school surrounding making friends.
The visual representation of anxiety in this book is spot-on, and I love the concept of an “evil twin” representing Olivia’s negative thoughts and worries. One spread that was particularly relatable (and hilarious) included Olivia becoming embarrassed and Viola telling her, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it recorded right here forever.” Ugh, relatable content!
However, as someone with anxiety, I find chaotic books and movies really heighten that feeling within me. On one hand, it’s clear the author did a fabulous job representing anxiety if just looking at some of the more intense spreads made me feel a little nervous. On the other, I’ve read other accurate representations of anxiety (see The Golden Hour) that didn’t almost send me into a small panic attack of my own. This is just a personal preference, but I think it’s important to note given that everyone has different triggers.
Overall, I think Living With Viola is an important book and might really resonate with some readers. I appreciated its positive representation of therapy, the glossary at the end and inclusion of Cantonese, and the author’s note. This book might not be for me necessarily, but it’s a solid middle grade graphic novel and deserving of at least 4 stars.

Living with ViolaLiving with Viola by Rosena Fung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really captures the experience of anxiety.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Who is Viola?
  2. If you feel comfortable sharing, do you have anxiety? Is your experience similar to Olivia’s?
  3. What are some methods Olivia uses to move past her anxiety/overcome Viola?

Interested? Buy Living With Viola.
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