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Courtesy of Groundwood Books


Graphic novel is not your usual coming-of-age story

By Chantal Braganza

By Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
(Groundwood Books) $14

Between bad grades, body image and the feeling you’ll never be normal, being 16 never gets easy, no matter how many after-school specials you watch. Throw a high school suicide, falling in love with your teacher and a couple of tarot cards into the mix and you’ve got the life of Kimberly “Skim” Keiko Cameron.

Told in 141 pages of beautifully illustrated black-and-white frames, Skim is not your average graphic novel and definitely not your average coming-of-age story.

Skim starts off like any storybook high school rebel. She wears a uniform to school, keeps a diary and smokes cigarettes with her best friend, Lisa, while making fun of the popular kids in the all-girls private school she attends. Skim knows she sticks out: she’s not that skinny and dabbles in witchcraft in her spare time. But she can make a wry observation of anything. “My school = a goldfish bowl of stupid,” she writes one day after taking part in anti-stress exercises with her classmates.     

But when she starts falling for her new English teacher, Ms. Archer, the jokes don’t as come easily. How does she know what it feels like to be in love? Why can’t she bring herself to tell Lisa? The difficulty of dealing with her sexuality and falling in love for the first time sends Skim into a depression.  

From high school heartbreak to teen suicide, Skim deals with some weighty issues, the kind the 16-year-old girl in your life might be tired of seeing presented in neatly wrapped plot lines on shows like Degrassi or 90210. Beyond their original graphic presentation, artist-and-writer team Jillian and Mariko Tamaki pay dutiful attention to honesty and consequence — with no cut to commercial.  

Some moments in the novel fit the coming-of-age bill entirely, as when Skim arrives at a costume party dressed as a lion, only to find a multitude of ballerinas and figure skaters. But the authors are at their best when using mundane moments to explore profound thoughts. “Dear Diary,” Skim writes while sitting out a dodge-ball game during phys-ed, watching her classmates get bruised and pummelled by flying balls, “I think there are a lot of ways to be marked.... I think everything you do and everything people do to you leaves a mark, or at least affects who you are.”

Author's photo
Chantal Braganza is a writer and editor in Toronto. Her blog posts will appear every second Friday of the month.
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