Drama by Raina Telgemeier
New York: Graphix/Scholastic, 2012
*Please note that the following post may contain spoilers and does not summarize the text, as it was written as part of my coursework for LIS 7220 Materials for Young Adults, and the first group of intended readers are my professor and classmates, who should be familiar with the book. If I make adjustments or an additional post with summary/review information in the future, I will post an update link here. Now read on!
Drama was a fun and quick read. The drama is both emotional and on-stage, as implied the title as well as the fact that the book is broken into acts rather than chapters, including an “Overture,” “Intermission,” and curtain call for Callie at “The End” of the book. This easy dramatic shorthand using in the literary and visual medium (also major components of live theatre!) reminds readers (or at least me) of the title’s double entendre as well as focusing the spotlight on the star of this particular performance, Callie.
Age and Readership
As a former crew member (lighting, costume design, and acting in musicals) who was die-hard in her commitment to school plays (beginning in high school. Raina Telgemeier was also involved in theatre “[a]s a teenager,” according to the author’s note) the primary setting of Callie’s story is one familiar to me.
Drama takes place in middle school, however, not high school. What differences stood out to me?
- The g-rated sexual content
- Dependence on parents for transportation.
That is most of it. I suspect with a young adult protagonist and character cast, this book could work both for young and older readers. 5th-6th grade to teen.
Navigation of Relationships
The development of relationships (note the similar images on the book’s cover to the first image of Callie on stage, walking home with two different boys, Greg and Matt), particularly the line between friendship and sexual attraction, is the primary focus of the text. I thought it was well done and realistic. Young adults (and many adults) experience a lot of difficulty navigating our first romantic relationships, particularly determining whether someone likes you, and the text showed both
- although disappointed and confused after Callie learns that Jesse is not interested in her, they both apologize and accept the strength of their friendship
- for example, when Matt responds to his crush by putting down Callie’s other friends
- or when Greg, Matt’s brother, comes onto Callie twice as a second choice
That said, I had some trouble with how gender and sexuality was presented in the book, but the more I think about it I suspect I’m upset at the world (as is accurately reflected in this text), not at the book. There is a certain level of homophobia and societal teasing (see Matt’s boast to Callie above) which is uncomfortable but real, and I think could start some amazing conversations.
Something else wonderful about how this book reflects reality? Its illustrations. The style is just fine (especially due to the varied level of facial expressions, this graphic novel carries its story load well between dialogue and graphic elements) but what I mean has a lot more to do with color.
Callie has amazing hair! It shows something about her personality without saying a thing in words. And the people in her lives come from diverse racial backgrounds, and this is great because unlike in purely textual works, in which authors are often still struggling with how to introduce characters of color without making it seem forced. Here you go! We can see everyone is visually different, but does that impact the story in some big way? No. Awesome.
Gender and Sexuality
Back to gender and sexuality. My big beef comes from two particular areas.
- Potential stereotyping about male performers and their sexual preferences! By the end of this book, all male characters on stage (at one point or another) are either gay or questioning. This as a fact is just fine. As I see this text, as a representation of modern reality, this creates a BIG BIG beef for me! Of course stereotypes come from a base in reality, but what does this say for the young, straight male reader who is interested in theatre? What does it imply for readers who are not interested in theatre about actors? It makes me a little sad. That’s all.
- Individuality and twins. I am particularly interested in books which feature twin characters (and may someday want to write a big to-do about it) and I loved that Jessie and Justin had some similar interests but were different people, particularly in their introvert vs. extrovert way. Jesse expresses his desire to be seen as an individual, but ultimately, he takes the stage and shares a sexual orientation with Justin as well. I have differing views on this. I think this is realistic (again!) in that a twin might desire to be an individual, but that desire shouldn’t keep him from pursuing similar interests, if they are also his own. But I’m more than mildly worried that this might also support some people to think that sexuality can run in families, etc. I might be putting the cart before the horse though. I love Tegan and Sara, and they’re twins who are both gay, so maybe this is something all of the world is already accepting as possible but not necessary.
I love this book more and more. It was fun and easy to relate to, and it reflects both our current reality and a hope towards further improvement in how humans relate to each other. A++