20 June 2009

Review: Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

I tend not to read a lot of graphic novels. I enjoy some of them and I love the combination of art and story, but so much of what I encounter seems either to be men's wank fodder or anti-social in a way that annoys me or too much the superhero thing or… or… or… So on CBC's website, I saw that the online book club was reading Skim, a graphic novel by cousins Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. Their description of the novel intrigued me, so I shelled out the ridiculous sum of $30 to buy it online from Groundwood books (should have gone to a bookstore...)

From the CBC Canada Reads book club site: Skim takes us into the world of Kimberly Keiko Cameron. It's 1993, and she's in grade 10 at a private girls school in Toronto. Skim is the nickname she's been given by the popular girls in her class. It's a constant reminder to her that she's not slim. Through Skim's diary entries and the small moments of her daily life, the book depicts the teenager's response to depression, crushes, a student's suicide, gay sexuality and the experience of being an outsider.

Opening paragraph:
Dear Diary,
Today Lisa said,
"Everyone thinks they are unique."

That is not unique!!
As I said, I don't really know very much about graphic novels, and I don't know much about art or how to talk about it, but I really loved the art in this book. Sometimes it's quite sketchy looking, but other panels are rich with detail and emotion. Some of the characters, like Skim's best friend Lisa, seem to match faces with personalities: Lisa is as hard and pointy looking as her personality. The cover of my edition looks a bit more like a portrait of a geisha than Skim, the slightly overweight, Wiccan (maybe) teenager, but in the context of the novel, that portrait suits perfectly the often melancholy mood of the book.

The story itself is interesting enough but not terribly special, much like most teenager's day to day lives are interesting enough but not terribly special. There is angst, betrayal, broken hearts, and that search for a sense of self and for one's identity. Having been that girl in many respects, there is something almost nostalgic about the story line. The mood is spot on for a teenage emo angst-fest. I shouldn't sound like I'm making fun, though. The writing and art give the subject and feeling the same weight and seriousness it has while living through it.

I quite liked Skim for the nostalgia and perfect distillation of the feeling of separation from everything and everyone which also defined my high school years. I can imagine, though, it might be grating for someone who has forgotten or never lived through that state of depression and quiet longing for the world to be better than it is.

Jillian Tamaki has done illustrations for a number of newspapers and magazines including New Yorker, SPIN, and MacLean's and of course did the artwork for Skim. Her website can be found here. Mariko Tamaki has written and published a handful of books including Cover Me and Fake ID. I can't quite figure out if a second graphic novel Emiko Superstar (with art by Steve Rolston) has been released. (I'm sure one site said October 2008, but it's not listed on Tamaki's website under published works OR the comics/graphic novels tab.) In any case, her website can be found here.

Tamaki, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. Skim. Toronto: Groundwood, 2009.
Finished: 05 June 2009
Rating: 5 of 5 Wiccan rituals to bring forth the spirit of the dead
This was my 2nd book in June and my 19th in 2009.

*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.

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