Monday, August 10, 2009


I was first introduced to the graphic novel Skim via an online preview sometime last year. The story, written and illustrated by cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, has been nominated for many awards since its publication in 2008.

The story: Kimberly, better known as "Skim," is a not-so-slim, teenage goth-cum-Wiccan in an all-girls' private school in Canada. When the boyfriend of a popular girl in school commits suicide, Skim's school goes overboard with mourning. Of course, the school starts somewhat meaningless counseling sessions and, soon enough, the popular girls' clique starts a club, Girls Celebrate Life! Meanwhile, Skim is falling further into depression, and falling in love does nothing to help things; in fact, it makes it worse. As Skim writes in her diary about her confusion, despair, loneliness and more, she tries to figure out just who she is.

Reaction: This is a heavy book, but what books featuring teenagers isn't? I found myself identifying with Skim a lot, especially since I hung out with some goths in high school. The book consists mostly of Skim's inner monologue, interspersed with her school life with best friend Lisa and her home life, which mostly consists of the back and forth between her divorced parents. The tone is biting at times, and in others, simply filled with a quiet desperation. At its core, Skim is an honest look at the frailty of our teenage existence.

Deep thoughts: This story revolves around depression and suicide, a not-so-uncommon theme in teenage fiction. Perhaps the most well-known work is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, where anti-hero Holden Caulfield spends several days in New York City following his expulsion from prep school. The book itself has been banned and challenged for its content, which includes profanity and sexuality. While there are obvious differences between Skim and The Catcher in the Rye, namely the graphic novel format, there are some distinct similarities. They are both told in the first-person, both are troubled and misunderstood characters, and the tale itself is told to someone else.

Artwork: Jillian Tamaki, cousin of author Mariko Tamaki, did the black-and-white illustrations for Skim. Her sketches lend an almost unfinished quality to the work and resemble the impatience with which teenage life is led. None of the characters are particularly attractive, but I think that's the point, since so few of us view ourselves as beautiful at that age. Throughout, black fills the spaces between panels in scenes set at night, lending a more appropriate tone. Since Skim lives many of her loneliest and most painful moments at night, the darkness seems to envelope her as an all-too-fitting metaphor.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I was tempted to rate this as "required reading," but I know that this kind of story isn't for everyone. While I think we all experience some degree of the loneliness and depression that Skim does, her story is an unforgettable one. Skim is available in the U.S. from Groundwood Books.

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