Raina Telgemeier, the creator behind the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel SMILE, introduces her loyal fans and new-found admirers to a new work this September. Drama spins out the up’s and down’s of a close-knit middle school theater troop from the perspective of Callie, a seventh grader and set designer with big plans for this year’s production. Old friendships are tested and new friendships form, as the cast struggles with their academics, their first hesitant romances, and their theatrical ambitions.
The charm here—and there’s an awful lot of charm—is the sincerity of Telgemeier’s characters. Callie and her cast mates could not be more genuine. Their middle-school reactions and interactions are written in just the right voice: neither super-sizing the trials of early adolescence nor cherry-coating those anxious years. Telgemeier deserves full marks for retaining and conveying the earnest feelings of young teens so concerned with the approval of their family, friends, and peers. They laugh at childish things, but worry about adult problems; cry openly, but still try to hide their fears. There’s a lot of yourself in this book and it’s impossible to walk away with identifying and empathizing.
Yet, the creator is concerned with more than just drama going on between her characters. Middle school is for bridging the gap between elementary and high school, and Callie and the rest of the Theater crew make quite a transition themselves over the course of the narrative. The shift is gradual, but it builds up steam as these preoccupied, socially-vulnerable young adults find their talents and their confidence. Less of a story about putting on a show for an audience, this work is about the art of finding your own internal applause and having the strength to walk unashamedly wherever you go.
~ Sarah Martinez