You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, drawn by Julie Maroh
Jake Hyde dreams of the ocean and has secretly applied to the marine biology program at the University of Miami, but in waking life, the ocean is limited to the aquarium in his room. His father drowned, and since then his mother has resolutely kept him away from water (hence the secrecy about University of Miami). She even moved them to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to keep her son away from water.
A yearning for the ocean’s not the only secret Jake is keeping. He likes guys, a fact he hasn’t shared with his best-friend-since-forever, Maria, whose feelings for him are clearly changing. Meanwhile, Jake is attracted to Kenny Liu, the school swim team captain, who is out and proud.
You Brought Me the Ocean (2020) is a graphic novel, a coming-out romance set in the world of DC Comics. Jake is a reimagining of a 1960s Aquaman sidekick named Aqualad. In 2010, DC brought back Jackson Hyde, a Black New Mexican teen, as Aqualad. Jake, in You Brought Me the Ocean, Black and gay, is the latest iteration of the character. The novel is written by Alex Sanchez and drawn by Julie Maroh.
Obviously, Jake’s interpersonal issues and first love are the main plot points here, rather than the revelation of his powers, but the two go hand in hand when he saves Kenny from a flash flood while they’re out hiking. Like any comic-book hero story, suspension of disbelief is a big deal here — in the actual world few people would believe that the swirling marks on Jake’s arms and back, that sometimes glow bright blue, are a “birthmark.”
I saw Alex Sanchez speak at a Zoom event and his comments drew my attention to Maroh’s artwork, especially what Sanchez called camera angles. Her use of perspective brings Jake and his challenges to life, whether it’s a long shot of Jake manipulating water or a close up of him, or of another character. The fluidity of water is exquisitely expressed here, and fluidity is a big theme (as are truth and consequences).
Jake’s biggest personal issue, though, is secrets. The story doesn’t go easy on the character or take a sentimental approach to speaking the truth. Kenny is out; he is harassed by the local homophobic bullies, and while his father loves him, he keeps trying to get Kenny to “change” to hetero. Late in the book, his father takes a surprising action that is key to the plot. He’s a realistic father. Through Kenny, Jake gets a preview of what being out will be like.
Sanchez does a great job with the way Jake begins to share. He shows Maria his powers, while still not telling her he’s gay. Later when she finds him kissing Kenny, she feels betrayed. When Jake tells his mother he’s gay, she doesn’t care — she loves him no matter what and wants him to be safe. Emboldened by this reaction, Jake shows her his water-control ability, only to have her react with complete horror. (Look at the splash page, 122, to see what I mean.)
Several things made You Brought Me the Ocean a different read for me. The adults in this book are complete characters, supportive and trying to be helpful, although bound by their own issues. For instance, of course Jake’s mother has been hiding some pretty big things, herself. Even the school bullies are rounded characters who go beyond the stereotype. Jake has a lot to overcome, and one of them is the habit of lying about what he wants most.
The sweet, yearning romance and Maroh’s beautiful artwork made You Brought Me the Ocean a delightful read in every way.