Image courtesy of Goodreads
Suicide, depression, love, sexuality, crushes, cliques of popular, manipulative peers – the whole gamut of teen life is explored in this literary graphic masterpiece.
Above is the blurb for young adult graphic novel Skim. A bold claim, to be sure. But is it accurate?
I agree with the blurb – to an extent. Skim never delved deeply into any of the promised themes. They are all within the pages, but don’t expect a thorough examination.
My evaluation may not sound enthusiastic, but I think it was the right approach for the story. Whenever suicide, depression, or falling in love touches our lives – whether directly or through others, whether as teenagers or as adults who should know better, we are left with far more questions than answers. Worse, our sense of self and established beliefs are often shaken.
The year is 1993. “Skim” is the nickname of Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a Canadian high school student with estranged parents. She lives with her mother, but the relationship is distant. She is into tarot cards, Wicca, and astrology. She’s starting to have differences with her best friend Lisa. She’s a misfit at school. And she’s falling in love for the first time.
Yet her story is essentially a subplot. Katie Matthews is one of the popular girls, whose outgoing and athletic ex-boyfriend committed suicide. The overarching narrative of Skim centers on the aftermath of this boy’s suicide.
The students at Skim’s high school don’t know Katie’s ex-boyfriend (they go to different schools), but everyone has a response. From insensitivity to ignorance (teenagers, eh?) to eye rolling at the random hysteria, everyone has a response.
What Skim captured well is the voice and reactions of teenagers. A lot of stupid ideas are executed with (likely) good intentions.
Skim is wonderfully realized. She is the way teen misfits usually are. Smarter, sharper, and wiser than the expectations of those around her, but not as wise and smart as she wishes she is.
I so love the page where the concerned but bungling school counselor pulled Skim into her office. Girls like Skim, with their gothic ways and “depressing stimuli”, were “very fragile.” In other words, girls like Skim were more prone to suicide.
To which Skim snarkily thought: “Truthfully I am always a little depressed but that is just because I am sixteen and everyone is stupid […] I doubt it has anything to do with being a goth.” Oh, and “John Reddear was on the volleyball team and he was the one who committed suicide.” I chuckled. Then cringed. Skim’s inner thoughts were close to those of my teenage self, though I was never a goth and always a humanities nerd.
So ends my adventures into Groundwood Books’ graphic novels. I’ve read four so far (I’ve also read A Year without Mom, Harvey, and Jane, the Fox, and Me). All the graphic novels are quiet, slice-of-life stories of innocence’s transition into mature realization after one central event, and Skim is definitely my favorite. It’s the grittiest one I’ve read, which makes sense as the other three are targeted at much younger audiences.
Despite my reluctance to read young adult fiction as I often find the characters’ interests too shallow and juvenile, Skim is a winner. Sensitive topics are treated unflinchingly (though never deeply) yet with restraint and understanding. The characters and their reactions ring genuine, especially those of Skim and Katie.
I know there’s very little chance anyone from Groundwood Books would read this, but it is thanks to them that I could read these graphic novels. During the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, their representatives very kindly let me take the books I was interested in off their stand free of charge as they didn’t want to take them back to Canada. It sounds like a win-win situation, but the reps were generous. Other publishers got rid of their books by selling them at a discount. Yet one of the Groundwood reps said she is more than happy if someone took the books to a welcoming home.
The publishing world is a business like any other. But stories like the one I experienced reminded me that book lovers are united in something wonderful. Loving books is often a personal matter, but the community created is tangible and passionate.