What do you do if you’re a very out bisexual goth teen starting at a new high school? You could lay low for a while, go easy on the black clothes and eyeliner, and quietly hope the new kids aren’t as mean as the ones at your old school. Or, if you’re Liv Holme, the central character of veteran comics illustrator Kath Leth’s heartfelt first graphic novel, you could don fishnet stockings and boots, slap on a button that reads “dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians,” and recite Edgar Allan Poe in English class.
Liv is objectively a bad-ass, though she doesn’t think so. The absence of her dad (who is later revealed to be a serial philanderer) is constantly weighing on her, especially because of how unhappy it makes her mom. She is bruised by the treatment she received from her former so-called friends, and has very little in the way of trust. Some of the kids in her grade keep making friendly overtures, which she initially shuns. “You’re not doing that thing where you pretend to be nice just to be extra-mean to me later, are you?” she asks one boy. “I’ve been burned before.” The only sources of happiness in Liv’s life are the local mall and Mr. Trent, her English teacher, who seems to recognize something special in her.
Mall Goth is the story of Liv working out who she can trust, and, more importantly, who she can’t. The latter category includes Mr. Trent, who lends Liv a copy of Lolita (red flag!) and sends her flirty messages in their online chats (bigger red flag!). It also includes Jake, a fellow goth who seems accepting and decent at first, but turns out to have the same issues with faithfulness and honesty as Liv’s dad. She finally gets in with a small group of kids, and when Liv’s parents finally opt for divorce, she gains a deeper bond with her mom.
Leth’s story is not as sticky or resonant as those in similarly themed graphic novels, but there are some welcome subtleties. Liv’s sexuality, for example, rather than being a big issue upon which the whole narrative rides, is merely one factor among many related to her inability to trust people. Her mom’s always cool with it, and the kids at her new school, right from the start, let her know it’s not a big deal for them. Mall Goth is a satisfying tale with a simple message: avoid creeps and cheaters and embrace your fellow weirdos, and things might just work out okay.