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Her Fine Eyes

Caustic reviews of YA books I adore. 

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Drama - Raina Telgemeier

***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***


Drama is a little older than Smile, Raina Telgemeier's previous graphic novel, in that an important aspect of the story is the main character's navigation of romance and crushes. In addition, Telgemeier continues to explore the (important) themes of pursuing your passion in life and being true to yourself, even while you're learning who you are. The theater club kids are serious and dedicated to their work, despite the surges of hormonal "drama" that sometimes flare up.


The illustrations are cute, colorful, and confident. Very easy on the eyes. Again, the coloring was done by someone else--a person identified as Gurihuru--and I'm still surprised that Telgemeier doesn't do her own coloring. Not that there's not a long tradition of comics being sketched, inked, colored, and lettered by different people, but it's not as common with American middle-grade GN's with a single author-illustrator. Unlike the handwritten lettering in Smile, the lettering in this book is a computer font (albeit a decent one), which I think takes away a bit from the charm. There are a couple of tiny continuity errors in the illustrations--for instance a disappearing and reappearing stuffed monkey hanging on Callie's closet door on pp. 21-2.


Because this is a work of pure fiction--Telgemeier did participate in drama and choir as a teenager, but merely used it for inspiration here--the plotting is a bit more literary than the plot of Smile. That said, it's still has the sort of "meandering through the school year" feeling that Smile has, which I think may make it feel "real" to child readers but sometimes made me wish for tighter plotting and editing. Some of the meandering is due to the side stories and relationships, all of which contribute nicely to the sense of an ensemble cast, but also distract from a clear story arc. For instance, there's a page in which Callie's little brother sneaks into her room while she's chatting online with her best friend, he looks over her shoulder to see that she wrote that she wanted to kiss a boy and teases her, and she chases him out of her room shouting "You fuzzbrain...I told you to stay out of my room!!" She squishes him under the sofa cushions and then sighs to herself, "What do I have to do to get some privacy around here?" The scene is totally inessential to the plot, and in a YA or adult novel the editor might have asked for it to be removed, but I suppose MG readers will relate.


I love it that Telgemeier includes all races and genders fluidly, and creates worlds where diversity is completely accepted, without commentary. In this book sexual diversity is accepted by all the middle-school players, and kudos to Telgemeier for that. Callie, the main character, talks the two Mendocino brothers into joining the theater's production. She is initially a bit swoony over the more flamboyant brother, Justin, who quickly comes out to her as gay. The shyer younger brother, Jesse, becomes close to her, and she harbors hope that he might take her to his 8th grade formal. In a twist that feels less than believable to me (what are the odds?) Jesse discovers that he's gay, too, after kissing the lead actor in the play. Just as little Raina never "gets the guy" in Smile, Callie's blossoming love life is temporarily thwarted here, but her professional life--her leadership in the theater club--is well established, and she takes comfort in the strong friendships that it has provided for her. 


Telgemeier dips her toes in the waters of intolerance, but in a gentle way: Justin and Jesse believe that their dad would have a problem with Justin's homosexuality. Still, Mr. Mendocino is depicted as very loving to them in person. (Justin says, "I'm not sure if he's ready for that...I'm sure he suspects. But we don't discuss it.") A timid foray into the issue of family acceptance of a gay son, but perhaps the right speed for MG readers.


So again Telgemeier has created a cute, highly-readable graphic novel that's not terribly tightly plotted but encourages creative passion and builds a safe world for middle-grade readers to explore ordinary struggles that are important to them. It also allows adult readers to remember those times.