Good As Lily

Written by Derek Kirk Kim
Art by Jesse Hamm
176 pages, black and white
Published by Minx/DC Comics

After creating the multiple-award-winning Same Difference and Other Stories, all attention would certainly be on Derek Kirk Kim’s next major project. Good As Lily, teaming him with artist Jesse Hamm, at first seemed like a slight and perhaps forgettable new book. The longer it’s been since I’ve read Good As Lily, though, the more I find myself thinking about it—and in a good way.

Grace Kwon has a pretty good life—she has some great friends, the drama club is gearing up for the spring production, and she’s turning 18 years old. Then she hits a piñata as part of her birthday celebration, but instead of getting candy, she somehow ends up with a shower of her past-and-future selves visiting her in the present day. Can she hide her 6-, 29-, and 70-year-old selves until they just go away? Or will the other Graces ruin their own 18-year-old self’s life?

On the surface, Good As Lily is a really predictable story—just reading the previous paragraph will probably give uninformed readers a pretty good idea of how it will all end. And strictly in terms of plot, Good As Lily doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, instead feeling a little dumbed down and predictable. It was a little later that I started seeing the really good things about the book. Kim has lots of little moments peppered throughout the book that shine, ones that feel startlingly real and natural. I appreciated was how Kim didn’t feel the need to spell out the exact nature of how the other Graces arrived and departed—most of the information is there but it’s not spelled out in a huge burst of exposition. (And the fact that one piece is never actually explained was something I really quite appreciated.) I also love the way Grace interacts with her friends, and her relationship with her parents in particular is more realistic than I think people will normally find in any form of media. The Kwon’s reactions to Grace’s distractions while smuggling her other selves into the house, in particular, are perfect with their great combination of worry and bewilderment, complete with statements from Grace’s father that aren’t meant to be funny by him yet somehow are. It’s these small moments that make the book memorable—the different spikes of emotional strength are so beautifully written that they stick really well with the reader. It’s the high point of Kim’s writing in Good As Lily and absolutely changed my feel for the book.

One thing that did stick out for me in a negative way, though, was the incident that gives the book its title. You’re 75 pages into Good As Lily before it’s ever even referenced, and then it’s resolved almost instantly. It’s strange because it’s the sort of thing when it appears that feels like it should have been a more major event within the narrative, and the fact that the book gets its title from it makes it even more so. The end result is that Good As Lily feels a little unbalanced, almost like something is missing and it’s hard to really shake it.

I do really love Hamm’s art in Good As Lily; it’s a slightly cartoonish, loose style but Hamm’s able to really do a lot with it. There was one moment about halfway through the book when Stephanie is being berated and put down by her mother, and you see her give her mother a look out of the corner of her eyes. At that moment, in just that one panel, you see a perfect mix of disdain and hatred and sadness all rolled together, and that’s when I knew that Hamm was the perfect artist for Good As Lily. Likewise, there’s a scene where 70-year-old Grace sees Jeremy’s valentine and finally understands what she’d missed all those years, and it’s great to watch the art shift from comical to very serious and emotional all in the space of two panels, without ever sacrificing Hamm’s consistent style.

In the end, Good As Lily was quite good indeed. Those expecting any sort of real surprises in the book will be disappointed, but there are so many wonderful moments throughout its story that you can’t help but fall in love with it. In the end, it really is one of those stories where the important thing isn’t the destination but rather how Kim and Hamm get us there. Good As Lily is that rare sort of book that gets better every time you read it.

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