“Did you want to read this?” I asked my love, waving this as part of a stack of library books I was done with. I of course was on the hold list as soon as it was in the library catalog system, because I am in love with Raina Telgemeier, as I’ve mentioned before.
“No,” he said. “I was a band geek, not a drama nerd. Besides, that cover looks like a love triangle.” Then he picked it up and read the first couple of pages while scrambling our breakfast eggs. “I changed my mind,” he said. Over breakfast and after dinner that day, I heard him chuckling over it. He was done before breakfast the next day.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier.
Raina Telgemeier is back after 2010’s Smile. Where that was autobiographical, Drama takes us to a fictional middle school inspired by Telgemeier’s experiences. Eighth grade Callie, a winsome lass with long purple hair, loves musicals, and is thrilled to hear that her school will be putting on “Moon over Mississippi.” She doesn’t aspire to the stage – she knows she has a terrible voice. She and her group of nicely ethnically diverse friends, including best friend Liz, work backstage. Now that she’s in eighth grade, she’s put in charge of set design. She has grand dreams, the biggest of which is building a real exploding canon for the stage. But there’s plenty of drama of the middle school romance type as well. Her longtime crush Greg was has long been dating a snotty girl, but kisses Callie after they break up. Then Callie is crushed when he immediately starts avoiding her at school. Disappointment is short-lived, though, when two cute twins join the drama group. Outgoing and talented Justin tries out for a major role in the musical, but is up-front with Callie: he’s gay, so while he likes hanging out with her, he’s never going to be interested in her that way. Callie’s never met anyone gay in person before, so this takes a little mental adjusting. Shy Jesse, however, might still be available. He joins Callie in the backstage crew and bonds with her over beautiful books about the golden age of musicals. It’s a great balance of deep thoughts and laugh-out-loud funny moments. Even when lovesick, Callie throws herself wholeheartedly into the theater project, falling asleep over her canon experiments in the garage. On top of those two major themes, she still has to deal with regular homework and an overly curious little brother. Telgemeier presents serious topics in an engaging, light-hearted but never flippant way. Her drawings are a nice mix of Western and Japanese style, expressive and easy to follow. There is nothing more explicit than a little kissing, making this perfect for older middle grade students and up.
I thought really hard about readalikes for this and came up with a blank. Novels that address homosexuality for teens, sure – but middle schoolers are I think still not supposed to have any sexual feelings at all, straight or gay. That’s too bad, because I have vivid memories of some intense crushes at that age, but the more explicit teen romances would have been too much. If any of you, dear readers, can think of a book that would be a good fit, please let me know.