Sarah Winifred Searle’s new book, The Greatest Thing, comes out February 8, 2022, and we were lucky enough to access an advance review copy!! Searle’s work always delights and endears, so I had high expectations of her newest venture into YA books. I’m pleased to report that I was not disappointed — The Greatest Thing is a lovingly crafted portrayal of adolescent affection, friendship, and self-image. Searle weaves tender moments and hard lessons to portray those pivotal moments of growing up.
I think for many of us, self-image is so integrally tied to our experience of our teenage years. It’s this hazy, nebulous, ethereal fog we’re constantly shaping and battling against. In The Greatest Thing, Winifred and her friends struggle to see who they want to be in the clothes they wear, in the way they present themselves, in what the world sees when it looks at them. When you’re young, when you’re gay, when you’re fat, when you’re trans. It’s hard. This internal dissonance does as much to pull these teens together as it does to push them apart.
I can’t help but think this must be a universal truth of adolescent experience. We’re not what we will eventually become, and the journey to get there kind of sucks.
The paths these kids take and the way they learn to support each other is so good and so lovely. They do things that hurt themselves that then inadvertently hurt the people around them. They reflect and fail and try again and do all the things that we do when we want to be better, for ourselves and our communities.
The thing that really warmed my old, wizened heart was seeing these pals start making zines together. Comics!!! They are so good!! Winifred, Oscar, and April pool their talents to make something they wouldn’t have been able to make on their own, and the effects ripple out from their little group, building connections with anybody who reads their work.
The thrill of the first time you collaborate with your friends, there’s something so exhilarating about it!! Until this moment, these three friends have been struggling on their own — with disordered eating, with learning struggles, with shitty parents. All of that tumbles around inside them, isolating them from each other and making that internal fog more and more dense, obscuring that long-sought self identity they already struggle to find. Writing a story, creating characters, stapling a zine — that kind of co-creation can drive away that internal fog as you build something, and build a community around that something. (I love you, POMEs!!!) Making a zine doesn’t solve Win’s problems, but it gives her something to own, a sense of empowerment that she’s never had when looking at her own reflection.
In the afterword, Searle writes about how The Greatest Thing is a gift to Win, the fifteen year-old version of herself, and to anyone like her. I recommend this book to anyone who was or is a teenager — it’s got feelings, it’s got 2000s nostalgia, it’s got zines!!! It’s a tender reminder that we’re all in flux, and we can support each other even when things are hard. The Greatest Thing is out February 8th wherever cool comics are sold, and it is well worth that spot on your bookshelf.