Summary and Review Messy Roots: A Graphic Novel Memoir of a Wuhanese American

First-generation immigrants to the United States are usually in for a surprise when they settle in the US. It’s often hard to fit in or find a community that is accepting of other people’s cultures. In Messy Roots, a thoughtful graphic novel memoir of living in Texas and coming out of the closet landed on my desk right when I needed an inspiring read. Read on for a full review of Messy Roots by Laura Gao.

messy roots  cover of graphic novel cartoon woman on a collage of places


After spending her early years in Wuhan, China, riding water buffalos and devouring stinky tofu, Laura immigrates to Texas, where her hometown is as foreign as Mars—at least until 2020, when COVID-19 makes Wuhan a household name.

In Messy Roots, Laura illustrates her coming-of-age as the girl who simply wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why girls make her heart flutter.


Messy Roots details the story of first-generation immigrant Yangyu Gao. After leaving the bustling city of Wuhan in China, her family emigrates to Texas where Yangyu chooses a new name (Laura) and tries her best to fit in with the kids at school.

Laura’s journey into adolescence is punctuated by discussions with her family on what it means to be American, basketball and crushes on girls. She makes the decision to come out to her family and I found her brother’s “OK so can we talk about girls now” response amusing. When COVID hits Laura wishes she wants all the wonderful things about Wuhan she experienced as a child but the fear and racism is so rampant that Laura shies away from sharing just how colorful her Wuhan community was.

messy roots interior page

The art in Messy Roots is especially thoughtful, I liked how when Laura is going through it, her hair reflects the stress and uncertainty Laura is feeling. I thought the flashbacks to Wuhan were compelling with bold colors that are different compared to Laura’s life in Texas.

Thoughtful and witty, the Messy Roots graphic novel is a wonderful love letter to finding yourself as a first-generation immigrant.

Other Graphic Novel Reviews:

Review: Part of Your World A Twisted Tale Graphic Novel

Spooky Graphic Novels for Tweens for Halloween!

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