Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? I do. It was a time in my life that left the strongest impressions, from the music I listened to and the hobbies I spent hundreds of hours partaking in with gusto. It wasn’t until much later when I learned that teenage brains are still under construction. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for judgement, risk assessments, and impulse control, and the last to fully develop. It’s also why so many teenagers rely on emotions to make decisions. Learning this factoid helped to clear up misconceptions I had about my own youth. Sydney’s story (she prefers to be called Syd) reminded me of this facet of life and I kept it mind when I dove into this comic book.
Charles Forsman’s I Am Not Okay With This was completed with the help of a successful Patreon campaign from fans. His work was previously unknown to me, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Our first introduction to Syd is a thin, lanky fifteen-year-old girl with telekinetic powers who’s in love with her friend Dina. From the title and cover alone I assumed it would be a cute story of a quirky girl stumbling through high school as she learns to deal with her powers. I didn’t expect to be taken on such an emotional journey that, by the end, had me choking up and wanting to give my mom a call to tell her I loved her.
Syd’s story doesn’t pull any punches as she describes her unrequited life for her best friend and the circumstances that led to her present situation. Dina’s boyfriend, Brad, refers to the girls as “dykes”, berating them even if they’re just having a normal conversation. Syd isn’t a shy teenager either, often recounting in her journal how she feels constantly horny but able to get off thinking about both men and girls. It’s not a subject I expected to read about (in a graphic novel), but hardly a surprise coming from an adolescent.
Syd’s life isn’t filled with roses and things that make her happy, and about halfway through I detected an undercurrent of depression in her day-to-day life. She lives alone with her mother and younger brother, her dad having passed away just a few years ago. They shared a close bond and I came to learn her father also possessed telekinetic powers she had. His absence was significant as it left her without the support and stability of someone she could rely on. Eventually she turns to other ways to deal with her pain and stress by smoking weed and even sleeping with her supplier who seems to have a thing for her.
An interesting aspect of Syd is how her telekinetic powers seldom play a significant role throughout the story, minus a few key moments where they utterly change the course of her life. Day-to-day she mentions them in passing, occasionally using them to give Brad a headache because she doesn’t like him. Her powers are more a representation of the loss of control in her own life, manifesting as a black shadow later on when she’s having an amorous encounter with another woman.
Instead, her powers feel like an inner demon she has to bear, serving as burdens instead of a blessing. It’s akin to carrying around a loaded gun without knowing if its bullets are rubber or real. I’m a huge fan of the X-Men and I’ve always imagined if someone was born with “real” powers they have a happy story of knowing how to use them for the greater good. I hadn’t considered the other side of the story where someone Syd’s age may not have comic book level resources, or where the most importantly person in their life who could possibly understand was gone. It’s absolutely terrifying to consider when you think about it, and left me deeply disturbed long after I read the last page.
I Am Not Okay With This isn’t a happy story, and by the end I was choking up on Syd’s behalf. Charles Forsman is a master storyteller able to take a familiar concept and give it a twist that grounds it firmly in reality. Not every kid has superpowers (of course), and even those who do aren’t exactly guaranteed a happy ending, despite what the comics tell us. The reality is that most of us will make decisions we’ll regret later in life, or won’t be able to look back on with any kind of fondness.