Polar Vortex: A Family Memoir (Paperback)

Polar Vortex: A Family Memoir By Denise Dorrance Cover Image

Polar Vortex: A Family Memoir (Paperback)

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A “poignant” (New York Times Book Review), heartbreaking, and darkly funny graphic memoir—crafted with “a whole lot of heart” (Oprah Daily)—that perfectly captures the grief, nostalgia, and chaos of having to care for an elderly, dementia-impaired parent in crisis


What do you do when your mother can't remember who you are? You catch the first flight from your adopted home of London to your original hometown of Cedar Rapids, lowa, where she's hospitalized, injured, and struggling with the swirling disorientation of dementia. You take responsibility for finding her new (and, perhaps, final) home—although insurance is running out and you might have to finally patch up your bitter relationship with your sister. And you try not to think about death, lurking around every corner . . . or the coming polar vortex, growing closer and closer as snowflakes swirl ever faster outside.


With cinematic illustrations and moving yet humorous prose, award-winning author and cartoonist Denise Dorrance shares the two most haywire months of her life: the phone call after her mother is discovered lying confused on the living room floor, the mingled shock and familiarity of a harsh Midwestern midwinter, the attempt to settle her homesick mother into a care facility, the limiting and limitless inanities of the US health care system, and the impossible decisions about what comes next. Incorporating vintage postcards, photographs, and letters, Dorrance brilliantly captures the sadness, frustration, and gallows humor of suddenly having to care for an aging parent and facing the moment of transition between life as you've long known it and life as it must become.



American-born cartoonist and illustrator Denise Dorrance worked in magazines in New York for twelve years (including at Cosmopolitan under Helen Gurley Brown) before moving to London in 1993. Her cartoons have run for decades in many publications, including the Mail on Sunday (UK). Polar Vortex is her first graphic novel. In the UK, it was shortlisted for the 2020 Myriad First Graphic Novel competition and won the LDComics 2020 Rosalind B. Penfold Prize.

Product Details ISBN: 9781615199051
ISBN-10: 1615199055
Publisher: The Experiment
Publication Date: March 5th, 2024
Pages: 256
Language: English
Winner of the LDComics Rosalind B. Penfold Prize

Short-listed for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition




"Splashes of color interrupt the blue haze of Dorrance’s poignant memoir, which hovers over her mother as she develops dementia and follows Dorrance’s journey home to the Midwest to care for her one winter.

— The New York Times Book Review

With gallows humor, visual ingenuity, and a whole lot of heart, Dorrance chronicles the two chilling months she returned home to care for her ailing mother—while a literal polar vortex looms in the background.
— Oprah Daily

Polar Vortex is enchanting, every page lovely to look at, so funny and plangent and full of sly wisdom . . . it’s also strikingly relevant. . . . Dorrance’s drawings are as expressive and as deft as those of Alison Bechdel. . . It is all, in short, magical: a triumph of art and feeling. I loved it.

— The Guardian, Graphic Novel of the Month

A pitch-perfect piece of work—frank and self-critical narration, incorporating photos and postcards, dread-drenched pacing, and beautifully limpid blue-gray/russet art. . . . Dorrance’s gorgeous, plaintive story speaks to those caring for aging parents and realizing they must eventually prepare for their own exits. A lyrical read-alike for Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.

— Library Journal, starred review

Gentle lines, soft color palette, and quippy narration bring a sense of comfort and familiarity to the bittersweet story of family, memory, and the inevitability of loss. Dorrance demystifies the challenges of elder care with this sensitive snapshot of the many ways in which memory shapes family history.
— Publishers Weekly

Raw, funny, heartbreaking and brilliantly simple: Like all great art, Polar Vortex devastates in the deepest way. I can't wait to give this beautiful book to everyone I know.

— Sarah Blake, New York Times–bestselling author of The Postmistress and The Guest Book

Dorrance’s upbeat, airy linework packs an unsuspecting emotional wallop. . . . A delicately drawn, unconventional chronicle of loss.
— Kirkus Reviews

Unsparingly honest and with an eye that refuses to waver, Denise Dorrance’s graphic novel Polar Vortex is utterly original and unique, managing to both transcend and subvert its genre. Dorrance has rendered a story of geriatric elder care into something edgy, beautiful, visceral, irreverent and yet ultimately universal. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

— Miranda Cowley Heller, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Paper Palace

An honest, affecting graphic memoir about a messy series of compromises and reconciliations accompanying end-of-life caregiving.
— Foreword

Moments of light and joy . . . run throughout the book . . . Ultimately, the book is hopeful, while not sugar-coating the realities of caring for a parent with dementia.
— The Comics Journal

There’s a poignancy tinged with sharpness to Dorrance’s drawings that reminds me of Posy Simmonds, as she captures with a mere flick of her pen the complex emotions between an adult daughter and her increasingly frail, childlike mother—the guilt, the uncertainties and the early stages of grieving.
— Collagerie

At times both heartbreaking and hilarious, Denise Dorrance delicately balances both sides of an unplanned reversal of responsibility, respectfully navigating both sides of the emotional rollercoaster of a woman coming to terms not just with the mortality of her mother, but her own.
— Popzara