something that was neither a comic book nor a fantasy novel, but then fate intervened and handed me a book that’s simply too good not to write about. Drama is a new graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, author of 2010’s award-winning Smile. Drama does not continue Smile’s autobiographical tale (not explicitly, anyway), but does match the earlier book’s endearingly honest and kind tone as it documents main character Callie’s year of seventh grade.
The book’s title reflects the two plot threads that dominate Callie’s year: the school play and Callie’s love life. The school play plot was instantly appealing to me, as it echoed my own scholastic experiences. At one point, Callie explains that she’s loved the theater ever since she saw Les Miserables as a small child. At first she dreamed of being on the stage, playing the part of Cosette, but her artistic skills (and lack of singing talent) eventually steered her toward building and painting sets. This year she’s in charge of set design, a responsibility she embraces readily.
For a lot of kids, an event like a school play is their crack at success in something largely self-directed. It’s exhilarating, rewarding, and terrifying. Telgemeier does a great job of conveying the jitters and the joy, both increasing steadily as we near the performance. It’s not easy to draw a comic that captures the magic of a successful live performance, especially a middle school production with cheap sets and lo-fi special effects. Telgemeier shows the excitement in the faces of the actors and the response of the audience rather than breaking from the reality of the scene for some sort of splashy production number. She’s made a clear choice to find the honest drama at the core of life rather than injecting melodrama by constructing a grandiose plot.
This same simple and effective verisimilitude informs the romantic storyline. It’s obvious that the ups and downs of her love life are very important to Callie, but Telgemeier keeps them in proportion, never forgetting that romance is just one part of a young adult’s life. In this respect, Callie’s a great role model. It’s not easy for her, but she manages to make good choices, voice her feelings, and handle disappointment with maturity. The extent to which things are not drawn out of overblown is immensely refreshing when compared to other YA books.
This is a fairly contained book, without a lot of spectacle and explosions. That may not suit all readers, but it was right up my alley. The quiet sincerity and emotional honesty were what I enjoyed in the author’s previous work and are what I look forward to in whatever she does next. You can see some nice samples of Telgemeier's work on her website.