The Greatest Thing by Sarah Winifred Searle
The Greatest Thing by Sarah Winifred Searle

The Greatest Thing by Sarah Winifred Searle


This. Book. Is. Brilliant.

I am dumbfounded that I hadn't heard of this before stumbling into it at my local library. Not only was this a beautifully illustrated graphic novel, the story itself was possibly the most relatable thing I've ever read. I wish I had read this as a teenager (I wish they HAD books like this when I was a teenager).

I ate this up in a day, maybe 2-3 small sittings. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel is heartfelt, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once. It is a story of messy characters, self-discovery, and...well, life. There are reviews here that say topics weren't handled in-depth enough, but as someone who has existed very much in the same mindset as Winifred, I think it was handled perfectly. Not every disorder, dysmorphia, or sexuality in question needs a long-winded deep-dive into the hows and whys. Sometimes--most of the time--we just are.

Searle does an amazing job illustrating and describing life as a fat, confused, and lonely female-presenting teenager. Growing up fat and self-conscious, I could relate to every thought and insecurity Winifred had. I personally didn't feel like things were handled flippantly or without depth. If you've been in those shoes, you get it.

This book isn't meant for the perfect, self-assured, confident, fully-put-together teen (like that exists). This book is for teens--and adults like me--who worry they're too much, too little, too fat, too imperfect, and not normal enough. The narrative touched me in ways I haven't experienced in a book before and made me reflect on all the things I felt as a teenager. If I had had this book as a teenager, I may have questioned my sexuality sooner, felt like I wasn't alone in how I processed things, and maybe would have been a little happier.

The Greatest Thing is an easy five-star book for me. It does handle topics that are sensitive and isn't for everyone. I'd put content warnings for eating disorders, depression, anxiety, fatphobia, biphobia, self-harm, and chronic illness. Where Searle excels is in relatable storytelling from lived experience. You can tell they put parts of their soul on the page and it makes all the difference.

I can't emphasize enough how much I related to the main character. Winifred was me as a teen, except with better hobbies and a more inclusive environment. The book itself is incredible queer-friendly and inclusive. The way Searle touched upon bisexuality/pansexuality in boys/men was spot-on, as well as questioning bisexual feelings as a teen girl. I also really really appreciated the gender questioning from April, one of the side-characters. It isn't obvious if you haven't been there or been exposed or allowed to explore your gender. One of the critiques I read in other reviews was that it wasn't spoken about with more depth. I couldn't disagree more. What I read was a teenager who was sad and micromanaged by their parents, then exposed to the idea of changing gender (via a tv show), and taking some agency for themself. It's handled realistically and in a way that would have affected me as a younger, more confused version of myself.

I really hope there is another volume (or a million) so that I can keep following Winifred and her friends. Huge thanks to my library for carrying this, because I would have never found out about it otherwise.

This book at its core is about messy teens, queer discovery, facing mental-health challenges, and feeling alone, different, and fake. I hope The Greatest Thing reaches a wide audience and is given to teens (and adults) to help heal their insecurities and help them realize that they aren't alone in how they feel/present/exist.

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