Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

In my mission to read more diversely this year, I have been trying to branch out and include graphic novels in my regular reading. I have *mostly* failed to do this. I loved my first graphic novel, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg, but I haven’t read any more since then. I finally picked up Fun Home for Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon, knowing I would need a book with pictures to give my eyes a break. I’m so glad I did. This book is incredible, and I would urge anyone who is reluctant to try graphic novels to give it a shot. It’s smart, funny, and super literary.

When Alison Bechdel came out as a lesbian to her parents while in college, she had certain expectations as to how they would respond. What she did not expect was to find out that her father was also gay. But just a few weeks after this revelation, he died in an apparent suicide. Decades after his passing, Bechdel explores her relationship with her late father in this graphic memoir.

As Alison charts her relationship with her father, she dives into her family’s history, describing her childhood in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Her father worked as an English teacher and the director of the local funeral home, which Alison’s family referred to as the “Fun Home.” He also worked obsessively to decorate their sprawling house in meticulous period styles. And when Alison was 19, he was hit by a truck and killed, leaving his family uncertain as to whether he put himself in harm’s way on purpose.

In the wake of her father’s death, Alison struggled to understand the man who, in many ways, was like her. She wonders what his life would have been like if he hadn’t settled down in the same small town where he was born; if he had moved to a big city like New York, could he have overcome his self-loathing, learned to be himself, and led a happier life? Would he still be alive today? But if he had accepted himself and his sexual orientation, would Alison even exist? Her ruminations are deeply personal and absolutely heartbreaking.

I think graphic novels often get a bad reputation from readers of “serious literature” because they look like comic books and therefore must not contain anything of value. People who think this way need to read Fun Home. Yes, it has pictures and can be read in just a few hours. But it is also thoughtful, relatable, funny, powerful, and rife with allusions to James Joyce, Moby Dick, Colette, Homer’s Odyssey, and other classics of literature. If you don’t believe graphic novels can be literary, this book will change your mind 100%. But in addition to all of those things, Fun Home is just so darn human. I don’t know how else to describe it, but I want everyone to read it.

I really loved this book. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it in the week since I read it, and I’m certain that it’s a book I will return to over and over again through the years.

If you haven’t read a graphic novel before, have I convinced you that you should? If you already love graphic novels, what other books would you recommend to someone who is new to the format?

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through the link above, I will make a tiny commission.

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14 thoughts on “Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

  1. Hi Leah! I saw your blog featured in the HarperCollins monthly newsletter and thought I’d drop by to say hi. I don’t read graphic novels, but I’m beginning to think I’m really missing out. I think I need to start reading them — I’ve heard good things about the MAUS ones. Have you read those?

    Susan
    http://www.blogginboutbooks.com

    • Hi Susan! Wow, I’m so excited that someone actually looked up my blog because of the newsletter!

      I haven’t read MAUS, but I’ve heard it’s really good!

  2. I’m so glad you liked this one. I read it several readathons ago, and I really liked it. It’s also quite complicated and nuanced, so it’s a graphic novel I’d like to revisit and reread. 😀

  3. I didn’t know about Bechdel’s own story… how sad.

    Just recently I attended a conference in cultural studies where one of the speakers laughed at how audiences are responding more positively to comic books now that they are called “graphic novels”, as if the change in the name changed the content. I personally find this sad and it makes me question why most people what they read (social expectations?), because, really, what is wrong with reading comics?

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