Monday, October 27, 2008

Skim--Mariko Tamaki (book review)

First off, I'm not what you'd call a graphic novel fan. Never have been.

What do you bet authors hate it when reviewers admit to not really digging their genre and then proceed to review their book anyway? "It was too, I dunno . . . graphic novel-ish. But other than that, I guess it was okay."

The thing is, though, I've read several graphic novels this year which exceeded my expectations. In fact, they raised the bar enough that I started to think maybe I do like graphic novels, after all, if they're the right kind: character-driven realistic fiction.

On the surface, Skim fits the bill: Author Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Jillian Tamaki (I love that they're cousins) portray a depressed Asian-Canadian teen's search for meaning and connection in her life in the aftermath of a friend's boyfriend's suicide. And, there are some great moments:

...Skim's attendance at her first Wicca meeting which turns out to be serving double duty as an AA meeting...

If I was taking someone to an AA group I would have mentioned that

...Skim's crush on her female hippie-esque English and Drama teacher, who encourages the attachment until it becomes innappopriate (aka, illegal), then shuts Skim out of her life without warning...

All the spells for bringing someone back to you need hair from the person
who has left. How are you supposed to get hair if the person won't talk to
is gone? Witchcraft=total crap.

So, why didn't I love this book?

Too graphic novel-ish.

Just kidding.

Reading Skim felt like watching the previews for a movie that looks interesting enough on the surface to make you want to know more. But a novel needs to do more than touch on a series of interesting moments. It needs to tie them together with a thread that pulls the reader into the main character's world. I wanted to care about Skim and her teen angst, but I never quite got there before the book ended.

Plenty of people have, though, which is why Skim appeared on my list of Mock Printz Award titles, and is up for a Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. You can learn more about the author on her website,

Soundtrack: Lovesong, by The Cure. Seems like the kind of thing Skim might've been listening to in 1994, when the story takes place.


  1. I'm just starting to get into graphic novels. Sounds like this one might have some interesting premises, but not fully flesh them out.

    I read a great quote by Dave Eggers about graphic novels, "Far from being literary fiction’s halfwit cousin, the graphic novel is actually its mutant sister, who can often do everything fiction can, and, just as often, more."

  2. hmmm...I can say that I have never read a graphic novel. I think I even missed when they first hit the book scene.
    But perhaps it is something I need to look into.
    After I finish my TBR pile.

  3. I tried a graphic novel recently and they're not "my cup of tea" either. I guess I really shouldn't base that on one book though.

  4. Heather, what a cool quote. It's a struggle for me to get out of a graphic novel what the illustrator put into it--I have to remind myself to spend as much time looking at the pictures as reading the words. But when I do it right, I would agree with Eggers.

    Caite and Bermudaonion, the great thing about graphic novels, if you want to try them, is that they go fast. I read The Shiniest Jewel, which was probably my favorite, in one morning. I picked up Skim on the way to the skatepark with my kids and finished it before they were done--about an hour and a half. Persepolis took a little longer because it was 2 books in one and was a little denser than the others--but I was still done with it in a couple days.

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