Design

New Graphic Novel

dancing at the pity party by tyler feder

Do you ever read graphic novels? This week, I flew through…

Dancing at the Pity Party, a new graphic memoir by Tyler Feder, about losing her mother when she was in college.

dancing at the pity party by tyler feder

She discovers her mom has cancer before her sophomore year.

dancing at the pity party by tyler feder

She watches her mom go through chemo, lose her hair and grow weaker.

dancing at the pity party by tyler feder

And, finally, Tyler talks about her mother’s death, the funeral and sitting shiva. (I also loved learning about the Jewish rituals around death, which were so thoughtful.) Tyler says “this book is for my mom and for me and for anyone struggling with loss who just wants someone to GET IT.”

The memoir is beautiful, heartbreaking and full of love. And the illustrations add so much — a slumped shoulder, tear-filled eyes, a low-key high five — so you feel like you’re right there with her.

Have you read any good books recently? I’d love to hear your recommendations…

P.S. Five other amazing graphic novels, and three favorite books.

  1. Brittany says...

    Thank you so much for posting about this book. My mom died last week from cancer. It was very aggressive; she was only diagnosed in January. When I saw this post last month, my mom was still receiving treatment, but it wasn’t going well. I knew in my heart, as soon as I saw this post, that she was going to die. I don’t think anyone wanted to fully believe it at that moment, but I just knew when I read about this book on CoJ that, sadly, I would need it. I bought it a few weeks later when her doctors recommended that she stop treatment. I read it then and read it again when she died last week. Truly, truly, thank you for sharing this book…it has made me feel seen and less alone.

  2. Amazing new discovery, I love Tyler’s style! Thank you for another amazing book suggestion Joanna! :)

  3. Rachel Upshaw says...

    Tyler Feder has been one of my favorite Internet follows for years. She is so talented and so lovely. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Laura says...

    I lost my mom when I was 25 (five years ago), after she battled a long time with frontotemporal dementia. I was the first person I know to have lost a mom amongst my peers. It was terrible. I felt like I didn’t know what to do or how to progress through life. I was appalled that lift continued onward like nothing had happened, when it felt like my life had shattered. Thankfully, that feeling subsided as time passed. But I still get very uncomfortable going into memory care centers, as I visited my mom for years there and it’s ultimately where she passed away.

    Indeed, grief is a lifelong journey, and it sure as heck is a rollercoaster.

    • Tracy Flanders says...

      I’m very sorry, Laura.

  5. Barbara says...

    Thanks for this post. I lead a grief group at a university, and losing a mom [father, sibling, best friend] in college or graduate school is incredibly painful. Being with others of a similar age who’ve also lost someone dear who can say “me too” or just sit in tearful silence together is something. I wish I could give this book to everyone who’s ever been in the group. Ordering it now.

  6. Amy K says...

    I recently finished When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson. It’s a middle school graphic novel about Omar’s experience growing up orphaned in a refugee camp, while raising his developmentally disabled brother. Touching, and appropriate for all ages!

  7. Sophie says...

    Love this! Is the team going to do “five great summer books” about upcoming releases? I always love reading those posts and have found some of my favorite books there.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh yes good question! in the meantime, i LOVED writers & lovers (which came out in march) and i’m excited to read emma straub’s new book We’re All Adults Here. xoxo

  8. Anita says...

    “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. My mom died 6 months ago of cancer and this was on the list of recommended bereavement reading from hospice.
    I’m only 37 and my mom was my best friend.

    • Elisa says...

      Thanks for the recommendation. I lost my mom in January to cancer. Mother’s Day was definitely not something I was looking forward to this year. I’m sorry about your mom, I’ll check out the book.

    • Nan says...

      I volunteer with a local Hospice and that is one book I would recommend to anyone who has lost a loved one – it is a keeper.

  9. Kim says...
  10. Cynthia says...

    I definitely want to read this book. My mom died almost four years ago at age 94. No suffering or lingering illness, but I still feel sad at times, especially Mother’s Day and Easter, because sometimes her birthday was on Easter. I was 19 and in college when my dad died from cancer at age 54. I’m 66 and the loss of a parent is tough at any age. I appreciate CofJ tackling tough issues.

  11. Dana says...

    Check out Street Noise Books (https://www.streetnoisebooks.com): Graphic novels for people who give a damn… This small, independent NYC company publishes graphic novels and memoirs written by underrepresented minorities and marginalized people and they are PHENOMENAL!! (Shameless plug for my SIL, Liz Frances, who started the company).

  12. Isabel Greenberg is my current favorite graphic novelist! Strong women and beautiful art!

  13. Claire says...

    I’d recommend anything by Mimi Pond. :)

  14. Maria says...

    My dad passed away last November (cancer) and I have read two (Dutch) books so far about the loss of a parent, which helped me somehow to deal with my grief. This is a great looking graphic novel, I think I will order it. Thanks for sharing ??

    • MB says...

      Hi Maria, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m really struggling after the loss of my mom 10 months ago, can you share the names of the books that you found helpful? Thank you, big hugs

  15. Elizabeth says...

    I read “The M Train” by Patti Smith a couple of months after my mother died. I really didn’t know what I was delving into. Because “M” stands for “memory” Smith writes of those close to her who have died, namely her husband. It’s so moving and devastating and you feel like you’re there w/her. But what really did me in, in a good way, was her memory of her mother stopping in the middle of the kitchen and saying, “Mom” after Smith’s grandmother had died. I find myself doing that sometimes — it just comes out, maybe because our mothers are so elemental to existence. They’re everything. It was a comfort to read that and realize that I too might just blurt out the word at some point.

    I loved “The M Train.”

  16. Kim says...

    Thrilled to see Tyler’s book on COJ!! I’ve followed her on Instagram for a long time.

  17. Sandy says...

    I have terminal cancer and will be sure to purchase 3 of these, one for each of my boys. What a lovely gift she has given the rest of us, and a wonderful tribute to her mom.
    It is so hard for my kids (30, 28, 25) to find someone who will listen to their fears, anger and frustration in a relatable, compassionate way. I’ve chosen to take the path of thankfulness and peacefulness during this time, but I know it’s harder for my husband and sons to endure some days.
    Thank you for sharing.
    PS, if you have read Caitlyn Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic from last week about terminal cancer and Covid, please give yourself a few minutes to savor it.

    • Julia says...

      Hi sandy,

      I’m sorry to hear about your cancer. I can’t imagine what you’re going true. Reading about you purchasing this book for all three of your children just gives an insight in how good a mom you are.
      Sending warm wishes your way in this difficult time.

    • LK says...

      Sending you all sorts of love, Sandy.

      Know that your kids will have friends in their lifetime that will support them on their down days, on the difficult holidays, and lift them when they need it.

    • Rachel says...

      Sandy, I’m so moved to read about how you’re finding ways to try and support your family while facing your own terminal diagnosis. What love.

      In addition to this amazing looking graphic novel, you may be interested in Kate Gross’s book, “Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life)”.

      Sending love across the internet to you and your boys.

    • MB says...

      Hi Sandy,
      How difficult for you and your family, I’m so sorry to hear you’re in this position. I lost my mom (suddenly) 10 months ago and I found an excellent grief counselor who has been invaluable in helping me cope. Perhaps your family might benefit from someone to speak with now or in the future, to help them manage with everything. Take gentle care of yourself xoxo

  18. Ari says...

    Two I read recently that I liked are: Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream and Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do.

    • Gretchen says...

      Seconding Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do! It is such an absolutely beautiful book! <3 I appreciate and admire how Bui is able to write about her parents with grace and empathy, while also not making excuses for how she was treated as a child. It is such a beautiful, well done book!

      I also love:
      Katie Green's Lighter Than My Shadow, which explores the author's experience with an eating disorder growing up.
      Lucy Knisley's Something New, which is a lighter read about Knisley's lead-up to getting married. I highly recommend it as a fun, down-to-earth read for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the expectations around weddings.

  19. Grace says...

    “Look up any movie and find out if the mom dies in it” — She nailed it! I lost my father 15 years ago and for years I felt like there was some sort of conspiracy against me because every other movie I watched had a dead father or a dying father in it. Literally for years, whenever my husband suggested we watch a movie together my first question was: “Is there a dead father in it?” Obviously the untimely loss of a parent can compel people to create incredible art. Also grief is such an overwhelming and mysterious and beautiful thing. I’ll never forget a good friend (with good intentions) asking me days after my father’s death, “Don’t you just wish you could speed up time to get through all this pain?” My answer: No. The unbelievable and debilitating grief I experienced in the days, weeks, and months after my father’s death was not something I wanted to avoid. I needed to experience it and I carry it with me too to this day. One final thought on grieving (for those of you with friends or loved ones who have lost someone): I remember feeling like I was drowning. I was drowning in a swimming pool and around the pool were people who loved me – close friends and my then-boyfriend/now-husband – but no one was saving me. I was lost in my grief and people (my husband especially) tried to help but I was so alone in the pool, struggling to stay above the water.

    • TC says...

      doesthedogdie.com is a great resource! It’s a crowd-sourced website/app that can tell you if any emotional triggers are in a book/movie/tv show. I found it while reading the Goldfinch because the dog was a lot like my dog and I needed that little dog to not die (and he doesn’t YAY).

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Wow, thank you, TC!

  20. becky says...

    A few other readers have mentioned Lucy Knisley– her graphic novel Kid Gloves is an amazing and beautiful journey through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. I laughed and cried and nodded and yelled “YES”! so many times. I love too that it weaves a shocking little history lesson about maternal care in our country. It’s now in my “welcome to the new mama club” book bundle that I gift to all my expectant parent friends, along with Nurture by Erica Chidi Cohen, Expecting Better by Emily Oster, and The First Forty Days by Heng Ou.

    • Kim says...

      Yes, I love her work.

  21. caitlin says...

    I would highly recommend for this incredible community of women, “Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World” by Pénélope Bagieu. She depicts women through history and around the world who are all amazing in their own way. Other favorites include The Arab of the Future series by Riad Sattouf, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui and Palestine Collection by Joe Sacco.

  22. Ella says...

    Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée is beautiful, heart wrenching, and hopeful. Even more heartbreaking that she passed away not long after writing it. Highly recommend.

  23. Alison says...

    I absolutely love Hilda on Netflix. It is based on children’s graphic novels of the same name by Luke Pearson- I have been meaning to read them! Hilda is a blue-haired fearless adventurer, and a friend of nature and creatures of all kinds.

    • Heather says...

      Yes! Our girls love it too – it’s such a great story!

  24. Elizabeth says...

    With regard to graphic novels, I loved Liana Finck’s Passing for Human! Also Mira Jacob’s Good Talk.

    • Elizabeth says...

      **whoops, I meant to write graphic memoirs, which is what both these wonderful books are.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Ooh love those both too!

  25. Kristin says...

    This is so important. My dad died when I was 18 and I wish there had been something like this to read. Thank you for featuring it ❤️

  26. Nicole says...

    My mom passed away one week ago of cancer. Knowing this book exists is such a gift, thank you.

    • Charlie says...

      Nicole, my mom died in 2012 of cancer. Know that it gets better and less painful, but know too that it’s ok to cry, feel shitty, and process it. I’m thinking of you and sending love to you. She’s with you, in you, and not going anywhere.

    • Lindsey says...

      Nicole—I am two and a half months in to having lost my Mom to cancer. You are not alone in your grief, and my heart is with you as I know from experience that losing someone in the time of Coronavirus only compounds an already devastating loss.

    • MB says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss Nicole. It’s so so hard to have to exist in a world without your mom. The most helpful thing I’ve learned over the last 10 months is that grief isn’t linear. You just have to take each 5 minutes as it comes. Hope you have some loving and supportive people around you xoxo

  27. This graphic novel looks beautiful. My favorite graphic novel is Your Illustrated Guide to Being One With the Universe. If/when it is ever appropriate, I am so curious about your sister Lucy. I read The Bright Hour & When Breath Becomes Air and of course, your post, and have always been rooting for her. xoxo, Rachel

  28. C says...

    Castle Waiting! They’re beautiful and unusual and I love both volumes!

  29. Ellen says...

    Thank you for writing about this book! It checks a lot of boxes for me—I’m looking for a good memoir, I also lost my mom to cancer around that age, and recently lost my little brother to cancer, too. My only experience with graphic novels is Maus, which I read in college and Loved. The story and illustrations were so powerful. This one looks good too. Here’s hoping the library reopens soon….

  30. Blythe says...

    I almost never comment, but I love graphic novels and Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is heartbreakingly beautiful and was a National Book Award finalist. I also really loved Queen of the Sea Dylan Meconis, Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai, and Shannon Hales’s graphic memoirs. Also, George Takei’s graphic novel They Called Us Enemy. I used to be such a snob about graphic novels. Thankfully my students helped me to open my eyes and now I buy and read them like crazy!

  31. Claire says...

    I gave my 18 year old son a graphic novel for Christmas called “Swimming in Darkness” , by Lucas Harari (Author), and David Homel (Translator). He thought it was terrific, and it’s on my list to read. But the graphic novel that will have my heart forever and always is Bone, by Jeff Smith. My son and I read them together when he was young over and over, and we loved them so much we can’t bear to part with them. Delightful.
    And I am not reading anything right now but need suggestions so I am following these replies because I know some good ideas will be shared.

  32. Susan says...

    Other graphic novels I’ve loved recently are Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and all of Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel memoirs including Something New and Kid Gloves.

  33. Caro says...

    Wow, this is perfect. My mom has stage 4 ovarian and who knows the outlook. I bought “hat To Do What I’m Gone by Hallie Bateman and her mother Suzy Hopkins. It’s a how-to guide written by Suzy for Hallie to follow when she passes on, illustrated by Hallie. Similar in that it’s full of lovely illustrations. Too painful to read right now :) But I think I’ll add Dancing at the Pity Party to my collection.

    • caro says...

      *What To Do When I’m Gone

  34. Eleanor says...

    Would you recommend this as a gift for someone who has lost their mother? My own is sick with terminal cancer and she and I both love graphic novels so it’s something I consider buying for myself and stowing away for a dark day. But I have a friend who lost her mom about 6 months ago and is still grieving hard. What do you think for her?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i think it would make a beautiful gift and she can choose whether or not to read it right away. just the gesture is so sweet. (and even writing this question shows what a good friend you are!)

    • Tiffany McArthur says...

      Hi Eleanor,
      My mother died 3 years ago after a short but brutal fight with cancer. I would have been touched if a friend got me this book with a heartfelt note inside. The grief that follows the death is not linear and ebbs and flows over the years. Right when I feel like I am treading water with my head above surface, a huge wave comes and pushes me down into the deep dark water again. Sometimes the wave is predictable like a birthday or Mother’s Day and I am somewhat braced for it, but sometimes it catches me off guard and those are the worst times. Im sorry to hear about your own mother, but having a friend who shares in your pain (although every story and experience is different) will certainly help protect you from some of the loneliness and isolation I feel as all my friends still have their mothers. Brace yourself for the pain, but also for the strength and resilience that losing your mother creates.

    • Joann says...

      My mom is sick with terminal cancer as well. Knowing absolutely no one else personally going through this at this specific moment, seeing your comment makes me feel less alone. ::hugs::

    • Agnès says...

      After I lost my mom, I could only read books about people who had lost their mom, or companion, or child. It really helped me have a private space for grief. Thats would make a beautiful gift, for sure.

    • Hilary says...

      Eleanor, you seem like such a good friend.

      I lost a close friend to a car accident last Christmas and the book “No Happy Endings” by the wonderful Nora McInerny was so comforting. She loses her husband to a brain tumor, but this book is about her life after that. As someone who had a hard time imagining my life post-my darling friend, it made me laugh, cry and gave me enough of a glimmer of hope to know that I’d be okay again someday.

    • Ellen says...

      I agree, I think it is a touching gesture. Also there is a concept of shared suffering that can be very therapeutic when one is grieving. Of course, one doesn’t wish suffering on others, but knowing that someone else is going through a similar sadness is powerfully reassuring.
      Reading The Book of Joy, about the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, was so helpful for me with this concept. Also the miniseries Flowers. Seeing someone else grieve is a way of seeing my own pain—it feels like a recognition of my own experience.

    • Molly says...

      Yes. My mom died of metastatic breast cancer in September. I am still grieving hard. Mother’s Day was cathartic in good ways and bad. I think I want to order this.

    • Charlie says...

      Hi Elenor, The best book I got after my mom passed away was “Motherless Daughters”. Its so relatable, so supportive, and it made me fell UNDERSTOOD for the first time in my life. Loosing my mom so young, no one around me could understand or relate. That book made me realize there’s thousands of people out there going through the same thing, and its going to be ok. I highly recommend it to anyone who has lost their mom or who wants to support a friend who has.

  35. Alison says...

    I’m in the middle of reading the Paper Girls series and it is SO fun. I never thought I was a graphic novel person, but was recommended these for their strong female characters (they are YA) and I am sold!! Each book is easy to devour in one sitting, which also feels really nice and like an accomplishment to read a whole book :)

  36. Celeste says...

    I have this one in my shopping cart because I lost my mom senior year of high school. I am reading The Giver along with my daughter’s 6th grade class (amazing and short!) and ordered the “Untamed” book for next.

    • Amy says...

      The Giver is one of my top-ten books. I re-read it every few years (and yes, the first time was in my grade-six class!).

      Not many people realize that it’s the first of a quartet of books, all focusing on characters in different communities in that dystopian setting.

  37. Tess says...

    This is a great recommendation!
    I am a HUGE fan of Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novels about her own life track her experiences with infertility, pregnancy, and new motherhood- highly recommend! Her books are my go-to engagement/pregnancy/childbirth present for friends and loved ones!

  38. Mary says...

    My mom died when I was 14. I’m 61 now, and it’s still the single worst thing that ever happened to me. Good for Tyler Feder that she can address the loss so beautifully, but I can’t read it. too painful still.

    • EM says...

      Oh, Mary, how my heart aches for you. My grandfather died when my mom was 11 (shortly after moving across the country for retirement) and my grandmother then turned to alcohol. My mother is close your age and still carries so much pain and trauma from those early losses. I hope that you some cherished memories to which you cling; it may not always get better, but know that you’re not alone. <3

    • Lin says...

      I’m sorry, Mary. It’s so hard to be 14. And losing your mother as well, is a grief that’s hard to bear. Sending you warm thoughts today

  39. Erin says...

    My 7 yo loves El Deafo. We’ve read it three times now & the format has really grown on me. I’d love to read one for adults.

    • Elizabeth says...

      This is so great! My daughter (who is 20) recently gave me El Deafo to read and I thought it was so great and then when we were discussing it I mentioned that it reminded me of the character in the Tom Angleberger books – and she told me that the authors are married!

  40. Lars says...

    This is so great! My dad passed away a few years ago and I appreciate the dollop of humor embedded into these devastating situations.