Verona Comics is the latest novel from author Jennifer Dugan. It’s a YA romance novel that follows the intersection of two teens following a chance encounter at a comic con. Jubilee is a cello-playing prodigy whose stepmom runs a popular indie comic book shop. Ridley is high-strung and anxious and his parents own a huge chain of comic book superstores. At a comic con prom event, the two meet in costume and shortly thereafter begin to text, not knowing the other’s identity. From there, romance blossoms and family secrets and business put the new relationship in jeopardy.
This relationship between the two becomes a bit more complicated when Ridley finds out that Jubilee is the stepdaughter of the owner of Verona Comics and his dad makes him get a job at the store to do a little industry espionage. As Ridley and Jubilee grow closer together through text (Jubilee only knowing him as “Bats” and still clueless to his true identity), this presents problems for Ridley as he is deceiving her by not telling Jubilee his true identity while working with her daily at Verona Comics. All of this only deepens Ridley’s anxiety and self-loathing, as he feels like he’s deceiving the girl that he’s growing to love and care about deeply. This dynamic represents the primary conflict in the novel.
The novel is very much of the comics world. Not the superhero movie world, or comics as a facet of larger pop culture, but going to the local comic shop to pick up your pull file world. The vibrant section of young queer folks who comics seems to attract in outsize numbers is underrepresented in media surrounding the industry. Jubilee and Ridley both identify as bisexual and the book is very LGBTQ-centric. There’s a lot of time spent with their struggle with what their attraction to each other means for their identity. This is particularly true of Ridley, whose previous experience with a boy was much more traumatic and less accepted by his family than Jubilee’s experiences. Merely as someone who is not a part of that young and LGBTQ demographic, I felt like Dugan found a way to authentically represent and speak to that crowd in Verona Comics.
It would be hard to overstate the amount of teen angst that’s present in Verona Comics. Jubilee has a fairly typical amount of teenage trouble and trauma. Most of her time is focused on her impending recital that will give her a chance to pursue her dreams as a cellist at one of the most prestigious schools in the country. Ridley is another story altogether. I don’t remember the last time I read a character that seemed so ready to explode with anxiety at a moment’s notice. It actually made me a bit uncomfortable, which probably means that Dugan did a good job of making the character feel real. He has been through some very troubling experiences and lacks the kind of healthy relationship with most of his family (aside from his sister) that might help him deal with a very difficult time in his life. Ridley is so used to expecting the worst that it often leads to self-sabotage when interacting with others, Jubilee included. Overcoming these tendencies and learning to be trusting is a big hurdle for Ridley and learning how to help Ridley is a challenge for Jubilee.
What Dugan provides in Verona Comics is a YA novel that should appeal to to those who have spent their fair share of time in comic book shops. It’s a roller coaster teen romance, complete with all the angst, drama, and passion one would expect to find in a love story between seventeen-year-olds. I’m not a huge fan of the YA genre, so I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like this one going in, but I definitely came out having enjoyed the time I spent with Ridley and Jubilee and will keep on the lookout for more of Dugan’s releases in the future.