I found Lucy Knisley’s French Milk in a small graphic novel store whilst in London. I picked it up in anticipation of our upcoming trip to Paris. Reading Knisley’s text made me even more excited about our trip. The graphic novel is filled with Knisley’s own drawings and handwriting as well as various pictures she took. As the novel was written while Knisley was on her trip, it serves as a visual diary about all of the beautiful architecture, amazing food, and handsome men that Paris has to offer. This novel is a perfect representation of Paris, as it really is a city that one has to see to appreciate. French Milk is also a sweet story of a mother and daughter’s trip to a city so often reserved for lovers. Reading French Milk will make those who have never been want to take a long trip to Paris, and those who have been, return as soon as possible.
Traveling is not all about eating and shopping, though—a large portion of the novel deals with Knisley’s fears as a graduating college student. Knisley finds it difficult to enjoy all of Paris’ splendor while simultaneously fretting about finding a job after graduation. Her work continuously gets rejected and she struggles with writer’s block. As a writer and traveler myself, I related to her concerns. One can never truly be free from the worries of daily life, even when on vacation. This was especially present throughout French Milk, because Knisley is writing her graphic novel while on vacation. Like so many writers before her, Knisley captures the whimsical aspects of Paris, but also the struggles of writing about such a beautiful city. This book is as much a travel journal as it is a story about times of transition. Knisley is in between childhood and adult life. She turns twenty-two in Paris and is graduating from college a few months later. The trip is a vacation for her and the reader, but it is also an exploration into how one deals with transitions. Knisleys spends much of the novel depressed about her future career, and this comes through in her drawings. At the beginning of the novel, Knisley is stressing out and procrastinating, and by the end she is ready to go back to school and complete her degree. It is a travel journal, but it is also an adolescent diary and an interesting perspective on this important transition into adult life.
An especially touching part of the novel was the relationship between Knisley and her mother. Most novels or movies about Paris revolve around a couple falling in love, but this novel instead explores the relationship between a mother and daughter. Relationships with parents outside of childhood take work, and as a result many daughters settle for speaking with their mother once a month on the phone and make no extra effort to carve out time with her. French Milk explores the beauty of an adult mother-daughter relationship. Their relationship is also in a transitional stage. They speak freely about sex and love as well as the pressure that Knisley is feeling. They adjust to each other’s sleeping schedules and share meals together. They are no longer just mother and daughter, but friends.
For those who need some extra inspiration to travel or are just looking to get away from home for an afternoon, Knisley’s graphic adventure through romantic Paris is the perfect anecdote. As Knisley weaves through the Paris streets, the reader can follow along. Her illustrations bring the delicious Parisian dinners, hearty pastries, and lively markets of Paris to life. French Milk is a quick read, but a truly enjoyable one. Make sure to have some whole milk and chocolate nearby though… you will get hungry.
Lucy Knisley is an comic artist, author, and musician. Her work includes: Radiator Days (2008), French Milk (2008), Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (2013), a New York Times bestseller and Goodreads top book of the year, and Age of License (2014). Knisley is currently working on Something New and New Kid. Her work has appeared in multiple anthologies and publications including Valiant, Marvel, and Adventure Time comics. Most of her work revolves around traveling and eating which her time in the kitchen, helping her mother’s catering business. Knisley holds an BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from the Center for Cartoon Studies. In addition to writing and illustrating, Knisley also teaches and lectures about comics at conventions, after-school programs, camps, and workshops. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and their cat.