Smile, Sisters, and Drama, by Raina Telgemeier. All three are Middle Grades graphic novels, the first two memoir and the last realistic fiction. They were published in 2010, 2012, and 2014 (not respectively). They have all been NY Times bestsellers and have won numerous awards.
For me, a sad part of reading a graphic novel is that it goes so quick. I enjoyed reading Smile, but man did it read fast. For me, it was just one sitting, not even an afternoon, like as long as it would take me to peruse a magazine.
I read it because my daughter picked it up off the library shelf at school and quickly read most of the Raina Telgemeier there is. I do find that a little funny, though, because–even though it seems to be devoured by the Middle Grades demographic–my favorite thing by far was all the allusions to growing up in the 80s and 90s. Raina is about three years older than I am, and I loved seeing Exclamation perfume and a Bart Simpson tee shirt… The book was just chock-full of generational allusions and shared experiences. Loved that.
I have been looking for graphic novels to read for a while, actually, but I am not used to reading them. Going from all books all the time to a graphic novel is a bit of a leap. It’s fun to look at the art and to experience a story in a different way, but it can also be a little awkward; from Wuthering Heights to Smile made the latter feel clunky. However, many of you are used to comics and really enjoy them. I like that they have kept pace a little better with the way young readers think and act, like in smallish pieces and snatches. Plus I love good art. Raina’s drawings are clean and inspiring, more like the Sunday funnies than modern manga or superhero comics.
I also really like that since so many kids have gone through the trials and pains of orthodontia, this book can be like a friendly guidebook during that process. I also love how Telgemeier gently shows readers that yes, you will probably grow out of your friends (geographically or otherwise), but that you will find new ones. And they’ll probably fit you a lot better. Also, that the way to “find yourself” is to keep doing the things you love.
I think the story in Sisters in more compelling than Smile. It felt more natural to me, as a plot. There is the suspense of “the incident” (although, as a note, I think the revelation of “the incident” is a bit over-subtle), which creates suspense. There is the twist ending. And there is just this calm, familiar feel to the whole thing. I love the special little moments that Raina was able to translate from memory to the page, like star-gazing. And, I am happy to say, I actually LOLed at times.
Now Drama is a different story, altogether. It’s, well, it’s older. Besides the fact that it deals with sexual identity, it is completely about junior high relationships and is replete with kissing and dates, etc. (Actually, when I think about it, most of the personalities and circumstances in this book are more appropriate for high schoolers. And I don’t just mean high school readers; I mean these are high school situations that would more likely be happening to high school characters, all around.)I asked my fourth-grade daughter if she’d read it. She said, “No” and asked why. When I told her, she said, “Yuck!” So while all the other Telgemeier books are appropriate for the younger set, this one is not. Besides that, it’s okay. Cute. Real. Simple. But I think it’s not quite as good as the other two above.
Baby-sitters Club #1, #2, #3, and #4: Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves the Day, and Claudia and Mean Janine
So, one of the reasons I personally enjoy Telgemeier is that we appear to have a whole lot in common. Among the things in common is a love of The Baby-Sitters Club. They were my absolute favorite books as a kid. I must have read a hundred of them (including the Specials and the Mysteries). One of my favorite book memories is the day my dad came home from work and handed me Baby-Sitters Club #1: Kristy’s Big Idea and I sat down on the porch in the setting sun and read the entire thing before dinner. I was very happy, then, to see that Telgemeier teamed up with Ann M. Martin to “Graphix” four of the first books of the series. (Note: There are no plans to continue the series.)
The characters in the new series looked just the same as I had imagined them twenty-plus years ago (except up to date)! I got a kick out of these books. Plus, Claudia was always my favorite, so I enjoyed #4, especially. The books were just what I remembered: sort of light and innocent, but also tackling the more difficult things the average junior higher goes through (in this case, arguments with friends, moving, divorce, tough customers, illness, added responsibilities, etc.) Reading these really made me want to go back and read some of the original BSC, but lo and behold they are not that easy to get your hands on despite that they are one of the best-selling kids series of all time. (Barnes & Noble carries them online, but not in any boxed sets.) I need to go through some old boxes at my mom’s and see what I can find. Until then, I have one eye on Ebay.
So the question I’m left with is this: Did I enjoy these books for themselves, or because they were so nostalgic for me? I’m just not sure I can separate the two. I know that my daughter enjoyed them, as do her friends (with the exception of Drama). I know that I breezed through them. I know that they are a superior graphic novel for Middle Grades, by the awards and the other reviews. But I also know they are going to be bumped up–possible severely–because I am thirty-five and can relate to all the 1980s adventures.
One of my favorite thing about Telgemeier is the simplicity. And yet, I am also a little put off by it. Just take a look at the covers. On one hand, you’re super unimpressed that an artist used a simple smiley face to sell her books. On the other hand, everything has this old-fashioned, family-style Sunday comics kind of feel. It’s like they’re perfectly executed, but a little underwhelming. Maybe it’s just the simplicity distracting us from the perfect execution?
I would recommend these books for people my age and junior highers (but Drama only if they are ready for a book about sexual identity). I would also point out that they are super-fast reads, but if you are in to graphic novels, you understand this. If you have ever enjoyed the Sunday funnies, you’ll find the art reminiscent and enjoyable, while at the same time new.
For more information, visit Telgemeier’s website HERE.