I have a soft spot for graphic novel memoirs. The High Desert is a really great coming-of-age memoir, dealing with love, racism, lonely desert towns, punk rock, awkwardness, and finding your place. Spooner is open and honest, and an excellent illustrator. You'll laugh, you'll seethe, you'll cringe, and most likely, you'll see something of your own time in high school reflected on the pages. A really great read! Recommended By Lesley A., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A formative coming-of-age graphic memoir by the creator of Afro-punk: a young man’s immersive reckoning with identity, racism, clumsy teen love and belonging in an isolated California desert, and a search for salvation and community through punk.
Scene: Apple Valley, California, in the eighties, a thirsty, miserable desert town. Population: Predominately white. Scene: Nonexistent.
Teenage James Spooner hates that he and his mom are back in town after years away. The one silver lining—new school, new you, right? But the few Black kids at school seem to be gangbanging, and the other kids fall on a spectrum of microagressors to future Neo-Nazis. Mixed race, acutely aware of his Blackness, James doesn't know where he fits until he meets Ty, a young Black punk who introduces him to the school outsiders—skaters, unhappy young rebels, caught up in the punk groundswell sweeping the country.
A haircut, a few Sex Pistols, Misfits and Black Flag records later: suddenly, James has friends, romantic prospects, and knows the difference between a bass and a guitar. But this desolate landscape hides brutal, building undercurrents: a classmate overdoses, a friend must prove himself to his white supremacist brother and the local Aryan brotherhood through a show of violence. Everything and everyone are set to collide at one of the year's biggest shows in town...
Weaving in the Black roots of punk rock and a vivid interlude in the thriving eighties DIY and punk scene in New York's East Village, this is the memoir of a budding punk, artist, and activist. End scene: Punk rock, forever.
"This reminds me of how punk can pull us out of a pit, give us legs to dance on, and words to scream with our dumb drunk beautiful friends. This already feels like a classic." Ben Passmore, author of BTTM FDRS and Your Black Friend
“Deeply relatable...it is genuinely therapeutic to read about James Spooner’s experiences: being in proximity to white supremacy, the exceptions that are made in small town, USA, and how quickly violence can escalate. Man oh man. The High Desert hits so deep.” Kimya Dawson, Moldy Peaches
"Punk is James Spooner’s salvation as he comes of age in a racist world, but punk culture is also a microcosm of that world. The path to reconciliation—with himself, his parents, his peers—is navigated with exquisite nuance and compassion. A beautifully drawn story." Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
About the Author
JAMES SPOONER is an accomplished tattoo artist, illustrator, and filmmaker. He directed the seminal documentary Afro-Punk. Spooner is also the co-founder of the Afro-punk Festival. Spooner’s work has appeared in NPR, Vice, The Village Voice, The New Yorker, Vibe, Fader, MTV, NBC News, and Variety. He is an ongoing guest curator for the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and previously programmed for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.