Bloom is a story about growing up, figuring out what you want, falling in love, and embracing the gentle catharsis of baking. It’s a sweet queer romance about two young people in weird transitory times in their lives, who are brought together by chance and, by even happier chance, end up being just what the other needs. It’s an all round delight to experience, capturing the magic of the graphic novel medium as well as everything I enjoy about YA. It also made me tear up and sniffle over sourdough starter, so consider that an endorsement of its emotional pulling power.
Ari has just finished high school and is ready to launch himself into adult life, keen on ditching his sleepy seaside hometown and moving to The Big City with his band. His parents don’t share his enthusiasm, and want him to stay and help out in their financially-struggling family bakery. Convinced that his dough-kneading job is the heart of the matter here, Ari sets about trying to hire a replacement for himself, and, after some trial and error, finds himself face to face with a lad named Hector. Hector has just moved to town, cleaning out his grandmother’s house after her recent death, and needless to say is carrying some baggage of his own… but he believes in the healing power of baked goods.
Both boys feel adrift in the boardwalk town, albeit for totally different reasons, and both find themselves anchored in a better place when they work together at the bakery. Hector loves to bake, and manages to reawaken Ari’s passion for the craft as well, despite his initial reluctance and rock-solid certainty than he’s going to flee the town and Make It Big as soon as he can. Maybe there is purpose and happiness to be found in making bread after all, if you have the right team to work with…
This book made my heart happy. Bloom taps into some of the appeal of the coffee shop romance, but it’s not just a teeth-achingly cute love story from start to finish. The coming-of-age drama is woven quite delicately through the story, making the tender moments of baking and bonding stand out as little sighs of relief. Ari has a deep thirst for validation, meaning he spirals into hopelessness and self-deprecation when people he looks up to don’t support him, and also meaning he accidentally attaches himself to the sweet figure of Hector with hopeless abandon.
Hector, in turn, is working towards being less of a people-pleaser (read: pushover) in the wake of a recent breakup. These are both flaws I’m familiar with (as I’m sure a lot of people are) and they make for some good character-driven conflict. They’re also not magically washed away by the end of the story, but the boys are both clearly making strides to grow and shake them off, and have quite satisfying arcs that flow across the story.
This is a story about family and friendship as much as it is romance: like all good YA stories it covers the complicated ins and outs and ups and downs of all kinds of relationships and how they can impact us. Ari’s dynamic with the five friends in his band is particularly interesting, especially as it intersects with his self-esteem issues and his eventual quest to figure out what he wants for himself, rather than tying his goals in with people who don’t quite get him or what’s important to him. Figuring out who you genuinely click with and who your real friends are is a massively important factor in growing up that creates a lot of emotional strife, which fictional media doesn’t always take the time to touch on as it tends to put more weight on romantic troubles. In the end there’s a very cute and sweet throughline of a platonic love story, that ends up being just as important to Ari’s resolution as Getting The Boy.
All that said, of course, the romance is as sweet as one of the syrup-soaked Greek pastries for sale in the bakery. This is also one of those queer stories where the queerness itself isn’t a big deal: there’s no coming out narrative, no worrying about the same-sex crush or what other people might think of it. It puts the emotional turmoil elsewhere and leaves the romance to flourish amidst its own genre tropes (as always, coming out stories are important, but it’s also nice to divert from them and do other things). It’s as slow-burn as a relaxing scented candle, beginning with friendship as the guys slowly open up to each other while working side by side, and gently kindling into something more over a long process of little significant smiles and soft moments.
I’m always a sucker for this sort of storyline—I like my romances sweet and gentle, and on that front Bloom delivers. The gorgeous art style enhances the quiet, soft feel of the relationship story unfolding on the pages, evoking a feeling of calm with its blue tones (and managing to create a world that feels colourful despite the monochrome) and a sense of character and lived-in space in its detailed settings and landscapes. Visual symbolism lets you quite literally watch their affection grow and bloom across the pages.
Bloom is a gentle story about teamwork that is, I think, at its heart about how beautiful it is be part of a partnership when making things. This goes for baking as well as music, as Ari’s band ultimately comes up empty for him on that front and makes him reassess his priorities. Hector and Ari watch in awe as Ari’s parents make pastry together, completely in sync, and both muse how they’d love to be part of a team like that one day. They aren’t quite there yet by the end of the book, but it’s clear they’re on their way, edging past their personal problems and mistakes to repair the damage between them (which inevitably happens at the climax of the story. There are stakes in this thing—it’s not just all fluff! I felt tension in my chest!).
This thematic throughline is particularly sweet given that this is, of course, a graphic novel and a collaborative effort. I get the sense that the artists are talking from the heart when it comes to the themes they’re exploring in the story, and it makes Bloom feel all the warmer, and all the more three-dimensional as well.
Did I mention that Bloom made my heart happy? If you, like me, are always won over by a beautifully-rendered sleepy seaside setting, engaging stories about growing up, nice food, and a slow-burn romance that genuinely makes the characters feel happy, grounded, and supported in a messy time in their lives, I would recommend this for sure. Just as a freshly-baked pastry can be a bit of warm, soft comfort after a long day, Bloom is a story that provides a sweet and tender break from whatever nonsense the world is throwing at you. I believe in love and I believe in the healing power of baked goods.