Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I really enjoyed Raina Telgemeier's last book, the multiple award winning Smile, so I was very much looking forward to reading this book, Drama. It focuses on the goings on in a middle school theater club. The title has at least two meanings, the first being that the story focuses on the technical aspects of putting on a school musical. The main character is Callie, the set designer of the show, and we get to see her several challenges, including working within a budget, making and moving sets, and getting a special effects cannon to work. I was in one musical in high school, and I have to say that I could relate to these aspects of the book.
The second meaning of the title has to do with the interpersonal relationships between cast members and the school at large. Not only do we get to see the politics of a demanding leading lady and how all the other actors have to deal with various obstacles, we also get a look into Callie's relationships and crushes. There are a couple of brothers, Greg and Matt, with whom she has grown up, who clumsily court her. Life gets further complicated when newcomers Justin and Jesse come to this school. Justin comes out as gay to Callie pretty early on, and he is very interested in being a performer in the show. Justin is more reserved and a wildcard, and Callie starts hanging out with him and develops feelings.  I don't mean to make Callie just seem boy crazy, because she is more complex than just that, but she is caught up in the vortex of figuring out how romance works. Overall, I felt that Telgemeier did an excellent job getting at how confusing, awkward, and hopeful middle school relationships (in terms of both romance and friendship) can be.

As you can see from the excerpts above, Telgemeier's art style is very attractive and colorful. I feel that it is deceptively simple looking, as she is able to convey much emotion and action with relatively few lines. Also, she is adept at varying her presentations at times, with some scenes being more large montages and other more focused on specific exchanges. My one quibble really is that at times I felt there was a little too much exposition in the text, but those instances were few.

I understand that some of the personal issues of sexuality that come up in this book have made it  controversial in some places, to the point of it being removed from libraries, but I did not feel that there was anything prurient here and that these situations seemed very realistic and human. I feel more and more issues of sexuality are coming to the fore in young people's lives, and those are better discussed than ignored or shunned. That certainly seems to be the tenor of this group of young people who discussed the book as part of the YALSA Hub Challenge. Eti also has a well detailed defense of the book in this blog post.

Drama has received its share of accolades and was named a Stonewall Honor Book and a Harvey Award Nominee. Ada Calhoun had many positive comments about the story and artwork: "Telgemeier’s momentum-building visual style veers from leisurely montages during rehearsals to dramatic moments like the sharp half-page describing a disaster on show night." Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and summed up, "With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer." Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and concluded, "Telgemeier’s manga-infused art has some moments of heartache, but the generally cheerful and affirming story should be eagerly devoured by her many fans."

There is a book trailer and much more info on the author's official page. A preview is available here from the book's publisher, Scholastic.

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