Jen Wang's Koko Be Good continues publisher FirstSecond's amazing run of thought-provoking, challenging graphic novels for adults. It's the story of Koko, a "free spirit" in San Francisco who trades on her manic energy and good looks to bumble by in mooched accommodations, borrowed clothes, and sponged meals. Then she meets Jon, a driven young man who is about to sell everything he owns to move to Peru, where his girlfriend is working in the remote orphanage her mother grew up in.
Jon isn't sure about his move, but he feels he needs to be. He quit his band after finishing college (they're now becoming an indie sensation, which puts some urgency into his choice to succeed at something other than music), and now he's not sure what his life is for or what it will come to.
When Jon meets Koko (she steals his tape recorder after a raucous performance at the Zeitgeist in the Mission), he finds himself subject to her withering scorn and tough questions. But the interrogation isn't one-way — in the process of criticizing Jon's do-gooder ambitions, Koko comes to realize how empty her own life is.
The two of them enter into a struggle to find meaning and happiness — to be "good" — and embark on a difficult journey that involves a huge cast of minor characters all engaged in their own existential battles.
All the above makes the book sound moody and brooding, but it's anything but. Koko Be Good brims with manic energy and comedy, a complex story engagingly told with ingenious layouts and lovely art.