What We Don't Talk About is the graphic novel debut from Charlot Kristensen, a talented artist and writer who has made her first endeavor into comic books a journey about racism, bigotry, and the complications interracial couples experience daily. This astute story swings big at tackling the convoluted issue of how ignorance can grow and form into harmful ideologies that ultimately become toxic.
This story follows Farai, a young artist who is two years into a relationship with her aspiring musician boyfriend, Adam. The two meet at a train station to take the next important step in their relationship, i.e., meeting the potential future in-laws.
Kristensen lays out some concerning foreshadowing early on with Adam, who is first shown in the comic draped in shadows worrying about the time, thus hinting that while he seems present in the now, he is still ignorant and covered in the darkness of actual reality. Farai's own struggles portend an issue where she must rush to keep up with her partner and exude more effort to be on his level despite aiming for the same destination.
It's not just the intricacies of Kristensen's artwork that indicate the imbalances and differences between this couple, but also the dialogue between Farai and Adam's mother, Martha. Just twenty pages into this small trade, two generations meet after hundreds of years of racism and battle it out through tenuous and obviously problematic conversations. Kristensen thrives in her depictions of the elusive way bias can weave its way into daily interaction that taking offense to it can be so readily dismissed as sensitivity. In one scene, Martha is surprised that Farai's parents were able to obtain higher education in Zimbabwe and dismiss the differences in various African cultures.
The story is a snapshot of how contrasting generations face this sort of intolerance with distinct races and cultures. Adam attempts to dismiss his mother's microaggressions as a misunderstanding, while Farai desperately hopes for support from her perfunctory boyfriend. This slice of life story packs many issues into its short 100 pages, flourishing when it showed the more incomprehensible issues and struggling when navigating Adam and Farai's supposedly good relationship collapsing in such a short time period.
What We Don't Talk About is a good tool to demonstrate that ignorance to culture can be on par with the harms of racism, toeing such a fine line that it is destructive to those who live with those transgressions daily. It struggles to feel authentic with the complexities of relationships; however, feeling very black and white with how love can look even when it is problematic. Overall this story is better suited for younger readers who are just entering intimate spaces but could fall short of those in such spaces already. Martha is a simple monster in this story, but the bigger problem here is never addressed……instead, Farai leaves the estate and goes home.