It can hit us with the force of a tsunami…or we can find ourselves easing into it like a swimming pool on a hot summer day. For some, the result may be refreshing, like a splash of cool water, while for others it may leave them feeling like they’re adrift on a stormy sea. Far too often, when teenagers realize they’re gay they find themselves trying to swim against the truth, frightened of where the tide may be taking them and worried that they may drown in a sea of unanticipated emotions.
Yes, I’m leaning a bit heavily into the water metaphors here, but that’s because we’re about to discuss You Brought Me the Ocean, the powerful and greatly needed new Young Adult graphic novel by Alex Sanchez and Julie Maroh that looks at Jake Hyde—perhaps known a bit better as Aqualad in the traditional DC Universe—as he gradually comes to terms with the truth of who he is. As a young, Black LGBTQ+ superhero, Aqualad is representative of a segment of society that’s woefully underrepresented in comics and mass media, but his story is one that still manages to be relatable to all. Obviously, that’s particularly true for gay readers—it’s no coincidence that You Brought Me the Ocean was released in the middle of Pride Month—but all fans of good, YA storytelling will find much to love, which you’ll hopefully see as we break it down for you!
Wow… Maroh’s cover may be simple, but it’s powerful and communicates so much in its straightforward image of Jake and Kenny Liu, the swim team captain who enters Jake’s life and changes it forever. The tender cupped hands speak to the sweet nature of the story within, while the near embrace along the top makes it clear that, yes, this is a love story. However, it’s not a fully straightforward one, as indicated by the glowing marks along Jake’s wrists. DC fans know that those belong to the present day Aqualad, reiterating that while this may be a coming of age love story, it’s a superhero one as well.
Tell Me a Story:
For a superhero whose entire schtick revolves around his skill with water, it’s hard to think of a stranger hometown than Truth or Consequences, New Mexico—a city smack dab in the middle of one of the country’s biggest deserts. Yet, that’s precisely where Jake finds himself in our story, as he makes his way through his senior year of high school with the help of his best friend, Maria. Brought to the oddly-named town as a child after the drowning death of his father, Jake now lives with his single mother, who does whatever she can to make sure he doesn’t meet the same fate. That would be great, if a bit overbearing, were it not for the fact that Jake feels drawn to the ocean. He’s even secretly applied to the University of Miami, hoping to major in oceanography. There’s also the matter of those strange marks along his skin that glow whenever he makes contact with water. Are they really just a birthmark like his mother claims?
Recently, Jake’s been drawn to other things as well, most notably Kenny, who’s outspoken and rocks stylishly unkempt aquamarine-colored hair. Kenny’s the one openly gay student at their small public high school and Jake finds himself becoming more and more attracted to his new friend right at the same time he also discovers that he possesses some strange new superpowers. Why does everything seem like it’s changing at once? What does it mean for his friendship with Maria? And why does his mother seem like she’s hiding something from him?
Let’s Talk Art:
Ironically, there isn’t a lot of ocean in You Brought Me the Ocean. Just about all of the book is set in New Mexico. But that’s okay because Maroh proves to be downright phenomenal at drawing the desert community of Truth or Consequences. Life in the small town is fairly simple and Maroh’s art seems to reflect that, bringing to the page only what’s necessary and letting your imagination fill in much of the detail. That’s not to say the art lacks depth or nuance. Maroh proves to be remarkably adept at breathing visual life into his characters, something that’s essential for a book like this one. As Jake, Maria, Kenny and even supporting characters like their parents struggle to make sense of the changes they’re suddenly faced with, you can see their fear, uncertainty, frustration and excitement in their faces. It comes through in their expressions—a glimmer in their eyes or a slight downturn in the corner of their mouths. You Brought Me the Ocean is a quiet story for one that centers on a superhero, and the art perfectly suits this.
You Brought Me the Ocean is a book that’s full of important, highly impactful conversations, and Sanchez knows how to write them. On a broader scale, You Brought Me the Ocean is about accepting and embracing who you are. But let’s be specific. At its heart, it’s a coming out story that’s likely to resonate with any LGBTQ+ reader who’s been through a similar journey (though hopefully without the awkward water powers). Sanchez clearly knows what the process is like and the struggles, both internal and external, that are involved. Both get reflected here through Jake’s internal narrative and the conversations he engages in with the people he’s close to. Some are immediately supportive, others are confused or even angry. All feel like real, honest reactions. Ultimately, what I found myself appreciating is how loving and empowering much of the dialog is here. With a few villainous exceptions, everyone here clearly cares about Jake, Kenny and Maria. This is a caring, supportive community. And considering how important finding a similar sense of community often is to LGBTQ+ teens, that’s an important message.
Most Embarrassing Moment:
Our teen years are full of awkward moments, so a teenage superhero origin should be as well. While I’d imagine Jake would love to hit the delete key on Maria walking in on his super-HOT swim session with Kenny, when it comes to pure embarrassment, nothing holds a candle to his superpower misfire in the school cafeteria about halfway through the book. The problem with having hands that spout water is that you really need to be careful where you aim them—at least if you don’t want people to think you need to start stashing adult diapers in your locker.
One Perfect Page:
I said earlier that You Brought Me the Ocean is a book full of important conversations, but my favorite page in the book is absolutely silent. This literal splash panel, aside from being ridiculously sexy (I mean, DAMN!), is also the moment that Jake fully embraces his attraction to Kenny. Set after class in his high school’s swimming pool, Jake dives into an uncertain new future—both physically, as it relates to his relationship with water, and metaphorically, as it relates to his attraction to men. Also, is it just me, or does the splash sort of look like it’s forming a little heart around them?
Favorite Teen Titan:
It’s often easy to decide which Teen Titan would be a YA book’s favorite, but You Brought Me the Ocean is a little tricky. You could say Raven, since Jake can surely relate to having an evil, destructive father set on ruining your life. You could also say Robin or Kid Flash, since Jake is also a legacy hero. (Aqualad has also been a Teen Titan himself, but we’re not going to count that—it would be too easy.)
Rather, I’m going to say You Brought Me the Ocean’s favorite Teen Titan is Starfire because while Jake may not be a literal alien on Earth, it’s clear that’s how he feels discovering he’s a gay teen in a small town like Truth or Consequences. Yet, like Starfire, once he accepts his past, embraces who he is and forms a supportive community of friends, he finds there’s great power in that. And there’s arguably no Teen Titan that’s more powerful than Starfire.
Tim Beedle may work and live on Earth, but he prefers to spend his free time in the worlds created by Philip Pullman, Garth Nix and Philip Reeve. His favorite superhero is Batman, which he knows is everyone else’s favorite too, so he’s really trying hard to get into a slightly less popular one. Keep tabs on how it's going by following him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.
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