Friday, June 17, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Skim by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

Skim, Non-US cover
Skim is a YA graphic novel by the cousins Mariko (writer) & Jillian Tamaki (artist). It's an authentic coming of age story that has helped strike another blow for graphic novels being considered as 'real' literature.

Skim is the nickname of Kimberly Keiko Cameron, and halfway through the book, she falls in love with one of her teachers. Skim is based in Catholic Girls High School in Toronto and set in the 1990s.

However, while Skim was nominated for an impressive range of awards (see end of , I didn't really enjoy it. I can see that it would be a hugely valuable addition to a school library and offers something real and different to teens, so I think a lot of my unenthralled response is personal preference. Amazon reviewers seem to uniformly love it, certainly.

The book is fairly short, is a bit depressing, and feels slightly contentless (possibly because it's short, and we just trail along behind Skim), but it does touch on a few important topics, mostly LGBT issues and suicide. There's no really joy, and the main character is pretty miserable most of the time, but life lessons are learned and some of the characters come out better people at the end.


The art style is a major part of a graphic novel, and was a little off-putting, so I'll address that first.


It is... a little odd. Not idealised, not perfect, not always pretty. The somewhat peculiar 'blobby' style of people's faces contrasts with the artistic skill in the composition and panel layouts. It does grow on you, as you adjust, but it's a bit off-putting initially. The only 'normal' and pretty character is Miss Archer, who exudes a lively chirpiness and sweetness. It's entirely in black and white, but you can just tell she's red headed.

It is functional though - the personalities, slouching teens, ethnicity, emotions are all conveyed well, if not always attractively.


The panel above is one of my favourites - it takes over the entire width of the page, and the girls look real

The lesbian content. 

Skim gradually grows closer to Miss Archer, mostly implied through a few double page spreads of them sitting and talking in the woods. Until the one below, when they kiss. 


This moment, with them kissing, is never referred to - it might even be in Skim's head - but their relationship changes from that moment on. Skim, obviously infatuated, seeks out Miss Archer, who is clearly trying to separate herself from Skim. Miss Archer avoids her and finally leaves, while Skim doesn't seem to realise that teachers are supposed to have boundaries where students are concerned. 

It's all from Skim's point of view, and she never really gets an explanation (but nor is there a 'this was bad' spiel, it's all quite inevitable but non-judgmental) - but she does get over Miss Archer, and finds a new friend, and becomes a slightly better adjusted person (also known as 'growing up a bit more'). 

Skim
Skim
Suicide and the main storyline

Most of the book actually follows the events at school following the suicide of a popular sports player, and the effect on his girlfriend, the leader of the local clique. They set up a rather grating 'life' club, which teen-Wiccan-goth-girls, Lisa and Skim, mock and cringe at. Life and death and depression permeate most of the plot - taken up a notch when the girlfriend 'falls' off a roof and breaks both arms. Skim ends up accidentally befriending her, and discovers that not only is she equally repulsed by the clique, her boyfriend had broken up with her, and was actually gay. 

So, we have teen gay suicide, lesbian crushing on teacher, possible attempted suicide, depression, witchcraft and gothic lifestyle, highschool stereotypes, implicit lessons on acceptance and gradual moving on from former best friends. All rather grim - but also very non-judgmental, for the most part. The only moralising comes from the 'bad guys', the rest of it is quite matter of fact. Some people go through depression. Some people kill themselves. Maybe they wouldn't have if they felt safer or accepted. Some people fall in love. Some people aren't able to love back. People aren't always who you think they are, and if you don't down a bottle of sleeping pills - sometimes you can move on.

  • Buy Skim on Amazon 


Awards
  • ALA Notables - Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults 2009
  • ALA Notables - Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens
  • Best Book winner, Doug Wright Awards 2009
  • Bloomsbury Review's Editors' Favourite Books 2008
  • Canadian Children's Book Centre - Best Books for Kids and Teens 2009
  • Best Graphic Album Nominee, Harvey Awards 2009
  • CLA Young Adult Book of the Year Award Finalist 2009
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center - Choices 2009
  • Governor General Awards, Children's literature finalist, 2008 
  • Ignatz Award - Outstanding Graphic Novel Winner 2008
  • Joe Shuster Award winner- Writer 2009
  • New York Times Best Illustrated Books 2008
  • PW Best Books of the Year - Comics 2008
  • Texas Maverick Graphic Novels Reading List 2009
  • YALSA Great Graphic Novels 2008
  • YALSA Best Books for Young Adults 2008

Further Reading You May Enjoy

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