Kids can reel off Raina Telgemeier books like baseball fans spouting stats: “Smile,” “Sisters,” Drama,” Ghosts” and “Share Your Smile: An Interactive Journal.”
Add “Guts” to Telgemeier’s best-selling graphic novels. Using childhood experiences and angst with anxiety, Telgemeier tells her story with humor and pathos, and a bit more “yuck” than sometimes seems necessary.
Yet “Guts” is an important book that addresses an ever-increasing problem that manifests itself in students who feel confused and shameful about a problem they don’t understand and feel they can’t share.
Raina’s quandary begins in fourth grade, a “gross out” year when students jimmy for friends, are consumed with jokes and comments about bodily functions — puberty looming large on the horizon.
An innocent case of the stomach flu in Raina’s family plants the seed that triggers her symptoms — gripping stomachaches that lead to an increasing preoccupation with the types of food she will eat. Anxiety grips Raina as she battles panic attacks and worries about stomachaches that might lead to more vomiting, narrowing her world and making her skip meals.
After tests prove that Raina isn’t seriously ill, a diagnosis of IBS is delivered, which does little to quell the girl’s fears; her mother then insists she see a therapist. The woman helps Raina understand her anxiety and provides techniques for dealing with her racing mind and negative feelings.
Raina uses drawing as a release and eventually finds the courage to share her problems in a book that’s certain to provide hope for children in the same boat as Raina, and others who don’t have anxiety, but will benefit from having an understanding of a mental health condition that’s increasingly prevalent.
Telgemeier has gone out on a limb with “Guts” and is to be credited. Her author’s note at end of the book is touching, a wise, warm message to young readers — one that will provide them with hope and help quell their feelings of isolation.