Look, if you don’t know Tegan and Sara’s origin story at this point, that’s kind of on you. They have provided it in a memoir and a TV show and now they’re bringing it to a middle grades audience in a graphic novel duology with art by Eisner Award-winner Tillie Walden. You could think of Junior High as a prequel to High School, but that’s not exactly it. It’s more like a retelling of High School that is both geared for a younger audience and planted firmly in our present day, as opposed to the late 90s when Tegan and Sara were really doing all their teenage hijinks, including coming out and forming their band. Luckily, all the heart and the heft of the story remain, with the edges softened just a bit and the references made more modern.
The only criticism I’ve heard about Junior High is from fans who wish the book was set in Tegan and Sara’s actual past, but I think it’s a brilliant, vital move to plant it in 2023. For one thing, middle schoolers these days probably know Tegan and Sara best from their Lego Movie song! The 90s might as well be ten zillion years ago to them! They’ve never even heard of The Con, probably! They likely have no idea Pitchfork is a thing that exists! What they do know, however, is that LGBTQ youth are under massive attacks, culturally and politically, and they need to see a way through this era of blatant, dangerous homophobia and transphobia. They need to see a hero’s journey from queer icons who’ve lived it! And they need to be able to relate to it, not to write it off as ancient history.
Tillie Walden’s art is, as always, warm and welcoming and oh so charming. Tegan is blue, Sara is red, and most of the novel is purple. It’s such a fun and resonant choice. (Entertainment Weekly has a really nice look at a dozen pages from the book, so you can really get a feel for how great the artwork is. Or check out Tegan and Sara’s Instagram for a video.) The mix of fiction and autobiography weave together seamlessly under Tillie’s pen, as well as the genuine affection and bond Tegan and Sara have with each other, something that makes their struggles as sisters pack even more punch. The artwork also allows the story to move at a clip! If High School moved a little slow for you, Junior High will be just your speed.
One of my favorite things Tegan wrote in High School was “There’s great comfort that comes from traveling through life with a witness,” something I have experienced with my own queer sister. I also think there’s great comfort in bearing witness, not just to the queer stories of our friends and families, but to our larger community, to our collective pasts and presents, so we can imagine a better future for all of us.