Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


All Grace Mendes wants is to blend into the scenery. From a young age, all being noticed got her was bullying, body shaming, and a loss of self-worth. When her best friend, Callie, drags Grace to a Pillow Fight Association (PFF) match, Grace is swept up in the confident, larger than life people in the ring. Seeing them owning their strength and oozing fierceness and confidence has Grace immediately enraptured—so much so she decides to try out with little hesitation. It soon becomes apparent that when Grace becomes Cinderhella, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her skills quickly gain her attention and she catapults through the ranks. As Grace begins to incorporate the confidence of her persona, she becomes self-assured and happier. Unfortunately, the toxicity present on social media is even more intense for those in marginalized groups, and with Grace’s intersectional identity, there are many ways bad actors can denigrate her. Will the voices on the internet destroy her hard earned courage or will Grace finally claim her right to live comfortably in her own skin?

Pillow Talk is a really sweet and affirming coming-of-age story. It’s a very quick read full of friendship, solidarity, and overcoming fear. Grace is filled with self-doubt and anxieties from her intense body-image issues. Because of bullying and an acrimonious relationship with her stepmother, Grace struggles to believe that random strangers and people she meets don’t hate her. Callie is there to coax her out of her shell, but only Grace can take the steps needed to be her best self. Though the PFF is a rough and tumble sport that’s a cross between roller derby and wrestling, all the people are giving and welcoming. They embrace Grace immediately and help her quiet the self-hatred she projects onto others. Plus, with the league populated with fighters of different body types, identities, etc., Grace doesn’t have cause to focus on her “deficiencies and differences.” Between the group’s acceptance and Cinderhella allowing Grace to tap into her inner strength, she begins to stop thinking the worse about herself and others.

The illustrations in the graphic novel complement Grace’s journey well. Vargas does a good job conveying emotions and Grace’s inner turmoil without words. The color palette features warm analogous colors with schemes that function not only as indicators of time of day, but that highlight Grace’s bruised sense of identity and Callie’s sunshiny nature. The colors on most of the pages have a matte-like appearance; however, scenes involving the matches/Cinderhella and Grace gaining some clarity and perspective are sharper and more focused—like Grace herself in her Cinderhella persona. The pillow fights are also dynamic enough to convey the participants’ intensity and the rough contact of the sport. My main issue is that neither the narrative nor illustrations show the supposed conflict growing in Grace.

As her first official fight performing as newly crafted alter-ego/ring persona Cinderhella looms on the horizon, the real battle taking place is between Grace and her growing insecurities. What if people laugh or make fun of her? Why did she think she could pillow fight in the first place when she doesn’t look like your “typical” athlete?

This “looming” fight and her growing insecurities are not portrayed as the story goes along. The story begins by showing how insecure Grace is. The illustrations do a good job displaying her tendency to shrink in on herself and that the only times she’s at ease is with Callie. She is self-conscious going into tryouts and worries people will laugh at her before her first two fights, but these are fleeting moments quickly overpowered by her knockout skills in the ring. Her thoughts seem like the normal ones anyone would have about competing in front of others. Additionally, there are quite a few other fighters who don’t look like “typical” athletes, and the montage of panels after Grace’s successful fights shows her growing confidence, not growing insecurities. I was just primed for a different narrative progression based on the blurb.

To be fair, most of the book *is* Grace’s journey to self-confidence. The conflict happens in approximately the last quarter of the story, and the resolution is very fast. However, it’s such an affirming “We Are Family” ending, it’s lovely to see. It helps that the inciting event triggers all her insecurities, so her rapid downward spiraling makes sense for Grace, and the self-worth and support system she’s gained makes her regaining her equilibrium so quickly believable as well. However, I’ve seen the target audience for this story listed on average as 9-13, so the quick pace and rushed ending probably won’t be an issue for them. The younger demographic also probably explains why the characters’ discussions about the state of the world—diversity, economic prospects, etc. are very blatant. However, they are incorporated into the conversations well enough to not be overly distracting.

Most of my issues with the story stem from not being the target demographic. I think Pillow Talk will speak to younger audiences, as well as the piece of almost everyone filled with self-doubt, and make those who share marginalized identities feel seen. I think it’s a very empowering and lovely story of self-worth and friendship many will enjoy.