Review: Why is Everybody Yelling?

 Why Is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family

by Marisabina Russo

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman

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This graphic memoir is by author/illustrator extraordinaire of over 35 picture books and illustrated books for older readers and novels. It's classified as a Tween or YA [or JB at one branch] in my library system, and appears to me to be a YA book at least. 230 pages, it is rich with artistic panels and much dense language. Comprised of 23 chapters, it spans the time in separate chapters from 1957 to 1967, the author's childhood and teen years. There is so much in each chapter: coming of age during the 50’s and 60’s, made more complicated by an absentee father and confusion about religion… We meet Marisabina in the first panel dressed in her white Communion dress, surrounded with Catholic ritual items yet the text and following comic panel feature Yiddish family members speaking Yiddish, so we enter Marisabina’s head and learn that she is in Catholic school but Jewish by her blood line.

The wonderment that is Marisabina herself and her family, is revealed to us as if she has taken photos of thousands of remembered incidents and has carefully sketched them, and the accompanying conversations that occurred when these incidents occurred. The comic panels are exquisite, often containing additional textual explanations above some of them. At the book’s end, there is a short epilogue in which the author explains in text, how she moved on in life after her nineteenth birthday, traveling to Italy to try to learn more about her father’s family.

I feel as if I’ve really met the family, and that I’ve known them for years! It’s the story of so many contemporary families who have roots in so many places, both geographically and by way of religion. The subtitle includes the fact that it’s an immigrant story. Yet for contemporary readers it’s also about assimilated people in general… Just as the author had to find her own voice in life, it will help readers to find their own.

The author's Jewish roots are definitely part of the book, including her mother's family's Holocaust connection. In that way it joins the list of other books of immigration and assimilation in America. It's a personal memoir, but also a Jewish story. There are also so many references to Jewish life, though it is through the eyes of this one child, and her special background.

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Reviewer Sandy Wasserman is a retired teacher of Gifted and Talented students, and taught for 35 years in both public schools and at a Solomon Schechter Day School. She's a wife, mother of two adult daughters, and grandmother to two fantastic 'first readers' of her manuscripts. Her published book,
The Sun's Special Blessing [2009], was her first serendipitous and fun experience in the publishing world. She loves to read and swim, though not at the same time.