This graphic novel initially reads like a travelogue or memoir of writer/artist Jessica Abel’s time in Mexico. In fact her art style feels like a sketchbook she’s making while she travels. But the main character is named Carla, not Jessica. Maybe it’s to allow her the freedom to fictionalize when necessary or to maintain some people’s anonymity. And then, over halfway through, it slowly and then abruptly reveals itself. I don’t want to say too much because the surprise made the final third a gripping page-turner and one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve read in awhile. Definitely read La Perdida by Jessica Abel.
La Perdida tells the story of the very absorbed Carla, who traveled to Mexico City in the hopes to “find herself”. Her estranged father is from Mexico and she’s attempting to discover her roots. But she ends up falling in with a sketchy cast of characters who are bitter about tourists and American commercialism yet don’t mind taking advantage of them by selling t-shirts to try to make ends meet. As Abel describes it on her site, “A story about the youthful desire to live an authentic life and the consequences of trusting easy answers, La Perdida—at once grounded in the particulars of life in Mexico and resonantly universal—is a story about finding yourself by getting lost”.
The graphic novel, published by Pantheon Books, was heavily informed by the time Abel spent living in Mexico from 1998-2000, which is when the story takes place. After you read it, check out her website. It has a great special features section that gives extensive background and supplemental information about her stay in Mexico and creation of La Perdida. It includes letters to home, photographs, a playlist, a cocktail recipe, sketches and more.