Anxiety doesn’t have to be a taboo topic, and Raina Telgemeier’s new book has the guts to bring it to the forefront.
When Scholastic published Raina Telgemeier’s newest graphic novel, Guts, in September 2019, they had high hopes for its success. In the wake of her previous bestselling books (Smile, Drama, Sisters, and Ghosts), Scholastic ordered a first printing of one million copies.
The leap of faith paid off. When Publisher’s Weekly released the weekly sales figures after Telgemeier’s publication date, Guts had outsold every other book in the nation. Not just young adult books. Not just graphic novels. It outsold all other books by a large margin, including new releases by Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, and Margaret Atwood.
Count me among the book’s many fans.
Guts is the story of a girl plagued by stomachaches and the self-perpetuating cycle of anxiety and discomfort they create. The story is more than just a product of Telgemeier’s imagination, however. It’s her story. It’s a memoir of her struggle with anxiety and the havoc it has wrought on her guts and her life.
Anxiety and anxiety-related physical disorders are on the rise in tweens and teens. Kids need to know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Talking about their worries and symptoms can help them feel better. Guts is more than a great read. It’s an opportunity for kids to see themselves and their struggles in young Raina and to learn that talking to a therapist can be an effective way to reduce their stress and its related physical symptoms.
My love for Guts runs deeper than professional admiration, because Telgemeier’s story is also my own. I missed a lot of school in second grade due to stomachaches, pain that had no obvious physical cause despite extensive medical testing. I was not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder until I was in my twenties. But when I faced the anxiety head-on, my stomach troubles got better as well.
Guts is an essential read for tweens, teens, and parents. It can serve as the impetus for family discussions about the nature of illness, the interconnectedness of mental and physical health, and the role counselors can play in helping us all manage our worries.
Jessica Lahey is the author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed and the forthcoming Addiction Inoculation: Raising Addiction-Resistant Children in a Culture of Dependence (April 2021).
When first presented with the assignment of reading Guts by Raina Telgemeier, I was hit with nostalgia. I’d read three of her past works in elementary school, and they are the reason I adore graphic novels today. I’ve always been able to relate to her books in some way or another, be it my relationship with my sister or my own medical trauma. But out of all of Telgemeier’s works, Guts happens to parallel the most with my own life.
I deal with a lot of anxiety and fear, themes that are visited over and over again throughout the book. Guts is a nonfiction graphic novel about Telgemeier’s own struggles with phobias and anxiety, centering around her severe emetophobia (fear of vomit). It’s a pretty easy read that I managed to finish in about 20 minutes.
The writing, art, and story are simple, making Guts a book that anyone can relate to on some level—especially young people who struggle with anxiety, panic disorders, or extreme phobias. Nobody is alone in these struggles, and we should all know that from a young age. Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s something that we all need to learn to handle and accept.
Telgemeier writes about the people in her life, and it feels that way.
These aren’t just characters; they’re people who change and grow throughout, just like real young girls. The characters’ interactions were just like the ones I’d had in fifth grade.
In Guts, Telgemeier is late to school repeatedly due to therapy, and when asked about it by a friend, she feels guilt, shame, and fear for opening up about this. Nobody should have to feel that way about getting help for mental health—and later in the book, she discovers that for herself.
I really enjoyed Guts for the way that it takes issues that I and many others deal with personally and handles them in a way that anyone—young or old—can appreciate and understand.
Mina Jones is a sophomore at Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale, Arkansas. Mina is Jessica Lahey’s niece.