Kate’s Review: “Wash Day Diaries”

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Book: “Wash Day Diaries” by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Chronicle Books, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Wash Day Diaries tells the story of four best friends—Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie—through five connected short story comics that follow these young women through the ups and downs of their daily lives in the Bronx.

The book takes its title from the wash day experience shared by Black women everywhere of setting aside all plans and responsibilities for a full day of washing, conditioning, and nourishing their hair. Each short story uses hair routines as a window into these four characters’ everyday lives and how they care for each other.

Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith originally kickstarted their critically acclaimed, award-winning slice of life mini comic, Wash Day, inspired by Rowser’s own wash day ritual and their shared desire to see more comics featuring the daily lived experiences of young Black women. Wash Day Diaries includes an updated, full color version of this original comic—which follows Kim, a 26-year-old woman living in the Bronx—as the book’s first chapter and expands into a graphic novel with short stories about these vibrant and relatable new characters.

In expanding the story of Kim and her friends, the authors pay tribute to Black sisterhood through portraits of shared, yet deeply personal experiences of Black hair care. From self-care to spilling the tea at an hours-long salon appointment to healing family rifts, the stories are brought to life through beautifully drawn characters and different color palettes reflecting the mood in each story.

At times touching, quiet, triumphant, and laugh out loud funny, the stories of Wash Day Diaries pay a loving tribute to Black joy and the resilience of Black women.

Review: It’s that time of year again, when the Goodreads Choice Awards showcase a number of well loved books, and I am confronted with titles that I had either never heard of, or titles that I had seen in passing but had forgotten about for one reason or another. “Wash Day Diaries” by Jamila Rouser falls solidly in the latter category, as I am certain that it had crossed my path once or twice before I clicked open the ballot for Best Graphic Novel. So given that I like to try and catch up on popular titles, and given that my current goal is to read more graphics (as they fell by the wayside a bit this year), I snagged an eBook of this for my Kindle and read it in about an hour one afternoon. And I definitely understood why it was on the ballot this year!

Overall I thought that this was a fun and incredibly charming collection of stories about four Black friends who are all dealing with various ups and downs in their lives as seen through their hair care days. I think that slice of life stories can be hard to do, especially when they are on the shorter side, but Rowser overall does a good job of letting the reader get to know each character and really get a feel for who they are with each entry. Be it Kim, who is setting aside all her time and other worries (namely an aggressive ex lover), or her roommate Cookie who is working through issues with her grandmother, or Nisha who has found herself in a love triangle, or Devene who is battling mental health issues, “Wash Day Diaries” looks at four Black women on their hair washing days and gives us an idea of who they are, and how much they all care for each other. All of the stories are short, and they have varying degrees of action to them, but they all paint a clear portrait of modern day Black womanhood for these four friends who are ride or die for each other.

There are always going to be limitations with slice of life stories such as these, ones that I myself tend to feel more just because I really love details and a wide breadth of exploration in stories, but for the most part I wasn’t put off by these things when I think in other contexts I might have been. It just goes to show that Rowser had a clear idea and overarching theme that connected through them all, and having a huge part of that being the vast experiences within Black womanhood and Black joy was really positive. Lord knows there need to be more stories about these things.

And I really enjoyed the artwork by artist Robyn Smith. I liked the designs of all the characters, I really liked the color palate, and I highly enjoyed the details that came out when focusing on the different Black hair styles that our characters had.

I highly suggest checking out “Wash Day Diaries”. It’s a quick read that has a lot of heart, and I am very interested in seeing what Jamila Rowser does next.

Rating 8: A slice of life collection built upon multiple arcs of four best friends, “Wash Day Diaries” is a tribute to Black hair, Black womanhood, and Black friendship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wash Day Diaries” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Alt/Indie Comics”, and “Plus Size & Mid Size Rep: Comics and Graphic Novels”.

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