Buy Bingo Love
Regular price: $12.65
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Melissa on Mar. 16, 2021
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I first heard about Tee Franklin‘s Bingo Love via someone’s Instagram list of recommended Black, sapphic stories. Written by Franklin, art work by Jenn St-Onge, and coloured by Joy San, it caught my attention because it tells a f/f romance between two grandmothers, not young people. However, now that I’ve read it and got my mom, who is a grandmother herself, to read it, I can say that this beautiful story is more nuanced than you might expect at first.
Bingo Love briefly begins in the year 2038 when the elderly narrator, Hazel “Elle” Johnson has a visit with a young, queer woman who comes to the older woman crying because her parents kicked her out. They’d just found out that she liked girls, and they didn’t accept it. Hazel comforts her a little, but essentially tells her that she is lucky because LGBTQ2SIA+ people are more accepted now than they were in her day. This book represents a super positive and affirming relationship between two older women, and yet, it doesn’t completely erase the discrimination that queer people face when they come out to their families. At the same time, perhaps because this is a graphic novel, this discrimination is mentioned and then the story moves on from there. For me, it wasn’t retraumatizing because the discriminatory moment was quick and didn’t go into great detail, but it may affect other readers differently.
After this short scene in 2038, we move through Hazel’s memory back to 1963 on Mari McCray’s first day at Hazel’s school. She is asked by the teacher to show Mari around and becomes immediately enamoured with her. This initial interest is solidified when Mari takes her out for hot chocolate on the way home and then kisses her on the cheek. In that moment, Hazel imagines getting married to Mari, but she doesn’t know how to tell this to the girl she just met.
The graphic novel quickly demonstrates the passage of four years of their friendship until, in high school, they kiss one day outside of their church while their grandmothers are playing bingo. They’re both, finally, able to reveal their feelings for one another. Unfortunately, when they’re caught kissing by Mari’s grandmother in front of their house, things change quickly. Neither of their families accept their relationship, and Mari is forced to move south to get married to a guy. Hazel tells her to fight it, but Mari doesn’t feel like she can go against her family’s wishes specifically because they are her family.
Hazel continues with her life. She meets and falls in love with a man who goes off to war, but she never forgets Mari. Even when she starts and raises a family. Even when she names her daughter, Marian, after the love of her life. She stays with her husband even though it’s not a great marriage, and even though they aren’t intimate for decades. And then one Mother’s Day, she goes with her daughter to bingo at the same church where she kissed Mari as a teen, and sees Mari from across the room.
I’ll let you read this graphic novel to find out the rest of this story. You should know, however, that this is a beautiful and affirmative story about queer love between women and that during a conversation with her husband, Hazel comes out as bisexual, pansexual, and queer. She says that she likes women and men. As someone who identifies as all three of the same LGBTQ2SIA+ identities as Hazel, I found this to be a really affirming story even though Hazel is much older than me and lived in a world that is much less accepting of queer people.
It’s also a story about meeting someone who lets you be your whole self. When Hazel was married to her husband, her life and dreams are limited to raising a family that he wanted. He only ever has sex with her when he wants another child, and while she loves her children, she doesn’t want any more kids. She loves designing clothes, but their heteronormative relationship doesn’t allow her the opportunity to realize her dreams of going to school for fashion design. She is only allowed to be a wife and mother. After meeting Mari again, however, Hazel is able to not only come out to her family, but also to follow her dream career—even though she’s already a grandmother—and thus, be her whole self. For anyone who comes out to themselves, their families, their partner(s), and/or their friends, they will recognize the power of being who they truly are.
As a graphic novel for teens, these characters will give LGBTQ2SIA+ youth an example of characters who are able to live their full, authentic selves. It will show them that whether they’re ready to come out now or not for many years, it’s possible to live the life they want or change careers no matter what their age is. And most importantly, it will show them that while there may be some traumatizing moments in life, it’s possible to have a beautiful, full life as well.
After having read a library copy of Bingo Love, I need to get my hands on Bingo Love Vol. 1: Jackpot Edition. It has Hazel’s story as well as over fifty pages of bonus material from a variety of authors, including the stories of some of the other characters in this book, and a sneak peek of Bingo Love Vol. 2: Dear Diary. Both my mom and I felt like we needed to know the Hazel’s husband’s story, which is mentioned, but not fully explored in this book. The library doesn’t have a copy of the Jackpot Edition, though, so I’ll need to wait until I can order it from a local comic book shop to get the answers to the many questions I have.
If you’re looking for a great, affirming story about Black grandmothers in love, then you have to pick up Bingo Love or better yet, Bingo Love Vol. 1: Jackpot Edition, so you aren’t left with more questions and no complete answers.