You Brought Me the Ocean: A sweet romance with beautiful artwork

You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, drawn by Julie MarohYou Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, drawn by Julie Maroh

You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, drawn by Julie MarohJake 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.

Published in June 2020. Jake Hyde doesn’t swim–not since his father drowned. Luckily, he lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Yet he yearns for the ocean and is determined to leave his hometown for a college on the coast. His best friend, Maria, however, wants nothing more than to stay in the desert, and Jake’s mother encourages him to always play it safe. There’s nothing “safe” about Jake’s future–not when he’s attracted to Kenny Liu, swim team captain and rebel against conformity. And certainly not when he secretly applies to the University of Miami. Jake’s life begins to outpace his small town’s namesake, which doesn’t make it any easier to come out to his mom, or Maria, or the world. But Jake is full of secrets, including the strange blue markings on his skin that glow when in contact with water. What power will he find when he searches for his identity, and will he turn his back to the current or dive headfirst into the waves?

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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