Turtle Bread

Cover of Turtle Bread, showing a young woman standing in front of a background of baking ingredients (flour, eggs) and equipment (rolling pin, whisk)

Turtle Bread
Writer: Kim-Joy
Artist: Alti Firmansyah
Dark Horse Books; $19.99
Publisher’s Rating: Age 12+

Great British Bake-Off star and author Kim-Joy’s debut graphic novel Turtle Bread, illustrated in an appealing manga-influenced style by artist Alti Firmansyah, stars Yan, a quiet, reserved young woman who just got finished with another unsuccessful job interview. Her inability to find gainful employment may be the least of her problems, though: Yan suffers from debilitating social anxiety, her runaway thoughts always telling her that she’s no good and that everyone she meets will think the worst of her.

Waiting for the bus home, she notices a sign for a baking club that meets nearby and, on a whim, decides to give it a shot. Though Yan stays mostly inside her shell and is secretly suspicious of her four fellow bakers, the club’s leader Bea is boisterous and welcoming and helps her warm up enough to survive her first time there.

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They make a Victoria sponge cake, with the ingredients and the baking process drawn into panels within the story. (As is the case for everything the club bakes, the instructions are sometimes embedded into panels of art in narration boxes.) Bea tops it with a fondant turtle, an animal that will become something of an unofficial mascot for the club, and a symbol for Yan: Does it represent an animal stuck in its shell, as Yan herself so often feels, or, as Bea says of the turtle, “When I think of turtles, I think of slow perseverance and keeping on in spite of it all.”

As Yan sticks with baking club, despite her anxiety telling her not to, she soon realizes that all of the others seem to have issues of their own, and all seem to gather some much-needed community and strength from the club. Things come to a head when Geraint, who has been posing as a baker, admits that though he works in a bakery, he just sweeps up and runs errands, rather than doing any real baking. His bakery is having a contest though, and whoever comes up with the best bread will have it sold in the shop. The club rallies to come up with the perfect recipe and bake it with him, resulting in the title baked good: Turtle Bread.

Meanwhile, Yan’s life changes for the better, as is shown in a long, silent sequence of panels—panels which do such a good job of telling the story that words would be superfluous—in which she gets a job at a bakery and even starts a relationship with a cute co-worker.

Her anxiety eventually sabotages things for her though, and she begins to spiral out of control when Bea leaves a mysterious note and suddenly leaves town…and the baking club dissolves in its leader’s absence. Yan will have to use her newfound strength to figure out what’s really going on, and maybe even save baking club…and, through it, herself and her friends.

Though this is Kim-Joy’s first graphic novel, it doesn’t read like the work of an amateur at all, and is a quite thoroughly polished YA read, one in which the character’s struggles with mental illness are foregrounded, with baking providing texture and a bit of world-building rather than being the focus of the story.


It may also inspire young readers to try their hands at baking; I know I certainly wanted to try turtle bread after reading this.

Filed under: Reviews

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