Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Always Human by Ari North are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase the book tour company Hear Our Voices or myself will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.
I’m happy to be part of the Always Human book tour for Hear Our Voices. Thanks to HOV and the publisher for providing a paperback ARC for review. Click the banner at the top of the post to see the rest of the tour schedule.
First serialized on the popular app and website WebToon, Always Human ran from 2015-2017 and amassed over 76,000 unique subscribers during its run. Today, as an archived piece on the site, the title has always over 400,000 unique viewers. Reformatted for a print edition in sponsorship with GLAAD, this beautifully-drawn, soft sci-fi, queer graphic novel will available wherever books are sold in both paperback and hardcover formats.
ALWAYS HUMAN: SEASON 1
Publisher: Yellow Jacket
Number of Pages: 256
On-Sale Date: May 19, 2020
The first collection of North’s Always Human comic series is filled with sweet and angsty queer romance between two young women, Sunati and Austen. As the story develops, you can’t help but feel every perfect ache and ounce of anxiety alongside the characters, navigating this brand new relationship together.
Austen and Sunati live in a world where almost everyone uses body mods to enhance physical aspects of their appearance and performance. From fashion mods for changing hairstyles to more functional mods that alter capabilities like focus. But some, like Austen, can’t use the modification tehcnology of this future world. Some have chronic illnesses that compromise their immune systems, leaving them unable to process the mods.
As they get to know each other, Sunati and Austen stumble, make mistakes, come together, pull apart, and learn how to navigate the world seeing through each others’ eyes. The narrative moves quickly but it never feels too fast. It’s just right for pulling the reader into all the drama and warm and fuzzy moments between the two characters.
Sunati is a sweet, caring and considerate 22-year-old woman, but that doesn’t mean she gets things right all the time. In fact, she has a habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time. She often means well, but she falls into the trap of using language that excludes or invalidates the experiences of others, like Austen, who has Egan’s syndrome. But Sunati is not incapable of learning. She tries, and that alone makes her so loveable.
Austen, an 18-year-old student in college, tends to get hyperfocused and obsessive when it comes to proving herself. She struggles with knowing her value outside of Egan’s syndrome, hating when people look at her or treat her differently. It’s clear as day she doesn’t use mods, and when people find out why, they often give her pity or worse, treat her like an inspiration.
Aside from the adorable budding romance and depiction of missteps that take place throughout a relationship, Always Human creates a great depiction of how to have conversations about ableist language and presumptions.
Sunati frequently puts Austen up on a pedestal, thinking her brave for not using mods, when she doesn’t really have a choice. Many also tiptoe around Austen, wondering if she would feel hurt or dislike them for using mods when she can’t. So many of these scenes depict what it’s like for differently abled people to live in a world made for the able-bodied.
Since I received an ARC, not all aspects of the artwork were complete. It came in black and white with some lettering issues. But that does not speak to the artistry itself. I only wish I could have seen the whole thing in color. I wanted to have a greater appreciation for the art as a whole.
Thanks to the publisher, Little Bee Books, we have a few panels to share. Scroll through to see them all.
Overall, I give this a solid 4.5/5 stars. It’s such a fun and fluffy read with a fun sci-fi twist and sweet romance.
Has anyone else read Always Human? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
Shop your local indie bookstore for a copy or find it here.
About the Author
Ari North is a queer cartoonist who believes an entertaining story should also be full of diversity and inclusion. As a writer, an artist, and a musician, she wrote, drew, and composed the music for Always Human, a complete romance/sci-fi webcomic about two queer girls navigating maturity and finding happiness. She’s currently working on a second webcomic, Aerial Magic, which is about the everyday lives of the witches who work at a broomstick repair shop. She lives in Australia with her husband.