By Riana Telgemeier
Scholastic Graphix, 233 pages, $10.99/$23.99
Despite being an adult, Raina Telgemeier has not forgotten what it was like to be an eighth grader when everything, from your body to your relationships, change with startling regularity. She demonstrated this in the wonderful memoir Smile and returns with Drama, a story across a school year.
Callie adores the theater and while isn’t comfortable on stage given her horrible singing voice, relishes her backstage work. This year, the final one of middle school, she’s now charged with the set design for Moon Over Mississippi. Her devotion to Broadway fills her head with larger-than-life ideas, almost impossible to pull off with a school budget coupled with her inexperience at things like hammering. What she does excel at is making friends and she forms some new attachments during the course of the production.
She’s gaga for Greg, the older brother of her best friend Matt, but he has eyes for someone else. Then she meets twins Justin and Jesse; one wants to be the star, the other is equally good but more comfortable working behind the scenes. Their integration into the school’s theater culture forms a large chunk of the story, especially as it becomes apparent one of the twins is out and proud. Of course, drama kids tends to be more accepting of gay friends, but in middle school it’s never easy and Telgemeier doesn’t shy away from, ahem, the drama inherent in this.
The entire graphic novel is set within the framework of a play with opening and closing curtains and even a brief intermission. Aided with subtle and effective coloring from Gurihiru, Telgemeier’s accessible style makes this an easy, entertaining read. She doesn’t crowd her pages and makes her characters look and speak in distinctive ways, yet retaining that youthful exuberance we all recall from those years in school.
There is plenty of tension during rehearsals and performances and Callie’s attempts to perfect a cannon going off is a metaphor for the entire experience. There is a lovely rhythm to the character arcs as things go from complicated to easy and then veers into the “it’s complicated” territory. By the end of the play, bonds have been forged that helps prepare all of the cast members for the leap into high school. Growing up is never easy and you survive school thanks to your friends and Telgemeier sees to it Callie is well loved as people respond to her devotion to theater and all its trappings.