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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

'Drama' by Raina Telgemeier

From the BLURB:


Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school's production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can't really sing. Instead she's the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she's determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn't know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

It’s theatre-season at Eucalyptus Middle School, and when it’s announced that this year’s production will be the wonderfully ambitious ‘Moon Over Mississippi’ everyone is excited – none more so than set designer, Callie.


Callie is theatre-obsessed, and has dreams of her set designs making it to Broadway and beyond one day. For Moon Over Mississippi’ she’s already envisioning cannon-fire and willow trees.

But amidst her excitement over this year’s musical tour-de-force, Callie is also grappling wayward crushes and frustrating friends.

Ever since Callie kissed Greg, brother to her good friend Matt, things have gone a little bit skewed for Cal … especially since Greg still is still smitten with bossy Bonnie, and now Matt is acting strange around her.

But then Cal meets brothers Justin and Jesse – extraordinary singers who are as theatre-obsessed as she is. Justin has every intention of trying out for Moon Over Mississippi’, but quieter Jesse refuses to even audition – although he knows all the songs by heart. Both boys become good friends to Cal, but when she develops feelings for one of the brothers, things become even more confusing…

‘Drama’ is the stand-alone, young adult graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to appreciate graphic novels. I’ve found some favourites among ‘Saga’, ‘Lost at Sea’ and ‘My Friend Dahmer’ – and since delving into this new literary world I’ve asked for recommendations and favourites from friends and fellow reviewers. And the one name that pops up again and again is Raina Telgemeier.

Raina Telgemeier has become quite the star in the world of young adult graphic novels. She’s created four graphic novel adaptations of Ann M. Martin's popular ‘The Baby-sitters Club’ series, and was picked by YALSA for their 2007 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, as well as ALA ’s Booklist 2007 Top Ten Graphic Novels for Youth list. ‘Drama’, her latest book, won the 2013 Stonewall Book Award Honor from the American Library Association. In other words; Telgemeier is a very big deal. And now that I’ve finally read one of her books … I can see what all the fuss is about.

The story of 'Drama' is nothing short of spectacular. Telgemeier imbues the page with a heady sense of anticipation, not unlike the butterflies-in-stomach feel of opening night, or the moment right before the curtains part...

What's so great about 'Drama', is that the backstage creatives are in the spotlight. And Callie as set-designer and leading lady is really wonderful - with her shock of purple hair, cool demeanour and heady broadway ambitions she is one incredible heroine. 

The drawing style is colourful and a little retro – there’s a bit of an Tintin look to them, which also reminded me of Disney animated series ‘The Weekenders’. There’s a definite cartoon-aspect, which may lead some people to assume that Telgemeier is writing for a very young audience. Her books are actually a great crossover – definite appeal for ‘middle grade’ readers, as well as young adult (I even think these would be great books for novice adult readers who want to delve into graphic novels!).

Telgemeier’s artwork is beautiful and clever; like the panels where Callie is flipping through an enormous photography book of set designs and costumes – Telgemeier visualises Callie’s obsession for the theatre and her ambitious dreams by injecting her into the book she’s so absorbed in.  

This colourful cartoon is also delving into some very important topics – like teamwork, sexuality and acceptance. I admit, I was very surprised by the story directions Telgemeier took; I (stupidly) expected an entirely light-hearted fare from these vibrant and young characters – but what I got was a brilliantly warm and sincere book that didn’t preach important topics, but explored them with sensitivity and humour.

There’s a big focus in this book about the sexuality of the theatre boys Callie befriends (and later crushes on). I’ve written before about LGBT and young adult novels – and how important it is for this readership to read many and varied portrayals of sexuality and love. But sometimes it can feel like LGBT books tick boxes and get very serious in trying to be inclusive and sensitive and it can just feel like prescribed reading of a different nature. Not so with Telgemeier’s ‘Drama’ – here is a book with a very organic LGBT storyline that has a beautiful message at its heart, but doesn’t preach that message. As a result, ‘Drama’ is one of the most sophisticated and sensitive LGBT books I’ve ever read.

I’m really excited that Raina Telgemeier is coming to Melbourne for Reading Matters in May. I look forward to hearing her speak, and in particular I’m interested to know her thoughts on graphic novels’ place in the young adult literary world (there’s been a shift ever since Gene Luen Yang’s ‘American Born Chinese’ became the first graphic novel to win the Printz Award).  I know I’m late to the comic bandwagon – but now that I’m here I can really appreciate that graphic novels like Telgemeier’s should have a place on school reading lists. Victoria has taken small steps in this direction, by including Art Spiegelman’s ‘The Complete Maus’ to the VCE reading list – but I’d like to see more love for graphic novels from teachers and librarians in Australia. Especially when they are as smart and have as much heart as Raina Telgemeier’s ‘Drama’.


The Centre for Youth Literature is bringing Raina Telgemeier to Reading Matters in May! 
And she has been blogging on the Inside a Dog website!

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