Sleeping While Standing is a graphic memoir that illustrates a series of emotional events from creator Taki Soma’s life. The story begins in Japan in the 1980’s as Soma and her brother learn of their parents’ divorce. It’s a gripping opening–as the author, age 6, does not have an emotional response. However, it quickly becomes apparent that her mother has no attachment to Soma–even suggesting that she let her friend adopt her (twice!), but she’s “okay either way.”
Talk about feeling unwanted from a young age. The neglect continues throughout her mother’s affairs until her stepfather, whom the author truly loved, surprises her with a birthday cake. Soma writes, “I just remember feeling overwhelmed with guilt and happiness and my ten year old brain just exploded.”
Heartbreaking moments like these are scattered throughout the work, but they’re carefully balanced by a steady stream of humor (often dark, naturally). As someone who lived in Idaho for a spell, I deeply identify with the author’s sentiment upon moving to Minnesota; she remarks, “Luckily, the unsightliness of the coat overwhelmed the frost so that I lived.” I could feel the chill–plus the x’d out eyes is a nice touch.
Visual details like that are what really increases the depth of Sleeping While Standing. Soma deftly uses space, pattern play, and unique effects to create texture and evoke emotion. There is one panel where the author has a bad reaction to drugs and her body becomes cube-like and two-dimensional. It’s wild.
I also appreciate the way that the text is organized into short chapters like “Minnesota,” “Addict,” and…”Murder.” The latter of which is particularly riveting. I found myself uttering, “Oh my gosh,” and then several other more colorful phrases when I remembered that this is memoir. Yikes.
Upon finishing Sleeping While Standing, one is reminded that life–all lives–is full of a series of events, not all of them pleasant, but all of them very human (except for the occasional zombie or demon in Soma’s case), and, as Taki Soma’s life proves: it gets better.
The release date for Sleeping While Standing is July 21, 2022.