French Milk

French Milk cover

Lucy Knisley and her mother went to Paris for a month in 2007, and the result was French Milk, Lucy’s drawn travel journal.

The two women were each facing their own turning points. Her mother was going to be 50, and Lucy was turning 22 and facing the questions of adulthood. Her preparations demonstrate her youthful view of what’s important: she barely learns the language, but she succeeds at taking up smoking, to better hang out in cafes. She’s struggling to figure out her future, planning for graduate school and wondering how she’ll support herself, but traveling with a parent makes it so easy to fall back into the patterns of childhood.

French Milk cover

Knisley’s lines are beautiful, flowing and confident, avoiding the distraction of unnecessary noodling. The pages are single panels. Sometimes they’re photographs; more often they’re sketches, 2 or 3 or more, showing the details of everyday life, with Lucy’s recollections written in around them. Often they’re of her, her best character. She looks so young! And comparing the photos with the drawings give a better idea of how she processes events through her style.

The first 30 pages are set at her parents’ house, introducing the characters in “normal” life before their environment changes. It’s a good choice to let us get to know them before they set off. Much of her experience there is thinking back to old friends (an amusing concept for a young adult) she hasn’t seen in a while, foreshadowing life changes and moving in different directions.

The virtue of such a lengthy trip is that it stops being a vacation and starts being lived. Lucy’s especially attentive to food, a quality I adore, since it so well sums up their experience. Her days are captured through what she sees and what she eats. Not a book to read on an empty stomach! But she’s also willing to show herself at less than her best, grumpy or homesick or shallow.

The focus is on the moments she’s living, no matter her mood, instead of a reflective “and then that happened.” That’s the virtue of her capturing things as they’re happening. There are few lessons presented, just one text page of reflections, leaving the reader to share the experience and draw their own conclusions. I envision the author rereading this book in decades to come, remembering through her diary the experiences and especially the eating.

Lucy has been interviewed about this book. She’s also published Radiator Days.


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