MMGM and #IMWAYR: Drama and more!

Hey y'all! I've been buying tickets to the Studio Ghibli Fest that's bringing different Ghibli movies back to theaters, since I've never seen them before. And this week I got to see Nausicaรค of the Valley of the Wind, which was incredible—the visuals were stunning, the story was rich with depth, and I cried at the end. The plot was confusing at times, but really, who cares?! You can go watch it on Max (you know, the streaming service named after me) if you missed the theatrical showing.

(Not to keep blithering, but for the first of the three Ghibli movies I've seen, I saw it dubbed—and as high-quality as the dub was, I feel like seeing them subbed is so much more natural.)

Anyway, I commenced the Raina Telgemeier re-reading spree I described last week, so let's talk about it!

Middle Grade:

Drama

Written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Graphic novel · 2012

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

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's 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!

Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a funny and charming exploration of friendship, crushes, and all-around drama!

· · · · · ·

I've loved this book for so many years—it's been out for over a decade, which is crazy to think (although I didn't read it right when it came out).

This is not my first (or second, or probably even third) time re-reading it, and it certainly isn't my last—but it is a re-read worth noting, in that I think it's my first re-read since before college.

So what does my slightly more mature perspective have to say about this story? That it's still great! And I'm excited to share my thoughts on it for the first time ever, all built up from years and years of escaping into it.

(Before we do, I'm going to negate the idea of a "slightly more mature perspective" and point out that perhaps the best feature of this book is that it almost gets you to say sentences like "I love Drama." Heehee.)

Drama has such a unique feel compared to, well, pretty much any other MG book or graphic novel I can identify. And I'll explore this more throughout the review, but part of the reason is that this book blends the zippy, gratifying nature of a feel-good story with the craft and attention to detail of a work of art. That combo is part of why Raina Telgemeier is able to draw in and hold the attention of massive audiences with all her books, but I think it's especially prominent in Drama.

So what does that even mean? (We all know I love my meaninglessly profound sentences in reviews.) Well, one thing is that this book is bustlingDrama is an ode to middle school stage crew, that world of fast-paced creativity and chaos management, of giving up the spotlight to the actors but finding true friends after pushing through challenges alongside them. Stage crew is always busy, and Telgemeier reflects that feeling through her focused, fast-paced plot, which feels like a choreographed dance in how it moves from moment to moment, quickly, but never missing a beat. The fast pace means every single line of dialogue is chosen for a reason, and it also means scenes that could drag on for pages are instead compressed into one or two delightful pages. One particular example of Drama's concision is how the three characters we see on the cover—Callie, Jesse, and Justin—develop a meaningful friendship in like 3 scenes, ranging from hallway conversations to mall trips that seem to take place over a matter of mere days. The fact that Telgemeier makes this developmental arc feel more convincing and fleshed-out than most, when its timeframe is actually surprisingly short, is truly impressive.

Speaking of the care Telgemeier put into making Drama, she is careful to depict the realm of stage crew in a truly realistic way—it probably helps that she had her own experiences in the drama world in middle school (albeit as part of the ensemble, not stage crew, as per her author's note). Scattered throughout the story are references to real challenges and solutions the characters work on—there's one page where Callie and Matt brainstorm the meanings of different stage lighting, and another page where Liz lists off the wardrobe to-do list, and other pages where Callie brainstorms ways to bring an ambitious prop idea to life onstage. I feel like a lot of authors don't go to the trouble of accurately depicting whatever realm they are describing, and the fact that Telgemeier does (without ever letting the story drown amidst details) makes it so much more compelling.

So we've got this great, snappy plot and fabulous reconstruction of stage crew life. And all that makes for a book that reads as smoothly as water flows. But that water is far from shallow, let me tell you—as much as I do have an obnoxious habit of reading too much into everything, I do think Telgemeier has laid some remarkable psychological groundwork underneath the surface of Drama, even if she's very intentional about rarely pointing it out to the reader.

One place where this comes out is the realm of middle school crushes. Callie, our delightful protagonist who I will be ranting about later, gets tangled up in the web of middle school romance in a way that is both fully realistic on the surface and also built on top of rich emotional details—emotions even Callie herself is not aware of. She ends up truly falling for her crushes in ways that make clear to readers why they're not so easy to let go...and also make clear why she's a little close to losing her mind trying to grab hold of them, even as they seem desperate to slip away. Callie is the most confident, least ruffle-able girl you'll ever meet, but she's only human, and of course when she feels safe and loved around someone, she pursues that feeling further, perhaps being unaware that it's a feeling she'll find again in the long life ahead. And all this detail is not hammered into the reader's head—it's just a layer of guiding principles that is more than happy to cede the limelight to Callie herself, and her day-to-day life.

Besides crushes, it's also important to acknowledge this book's exploration of queerness. I was saying a few weeks ago when I reviewed A-Okay by Jarad Greene how very few MG authors (at least in graphic novels) seem interested in incorporating same-gender crushes into their middle-school plot lines. I guess it messes up all their love triangles and quintangles and quadrangles and such. As for Raina Telgemeier? Oh, she absolutely relishes in filling Drama with webs of crushes, some opposite-gender and some same-gender, some center stage and some in the background, and all equally real. This book was a Stonewall Honor Book, and I can see why—(a) because its exploration of queerness is realistic without being heavy-handed, and (b) because this book came out in 2012 and do you know how few people talked about queerness in 2012? Same-sex marriage was illegal in the U.S. in 2012—and would stay that way for three more years. And here's Raina Telgemeier tackling queerness in her second solo book ever—and getting her book endlessly banned and challenged for it, it bears noting. (She gets props from me for doing it anyway.)

Speaking of doing hard things anyway, if I was asked to pick out one more meaningful topic/theme from Drama, I would say sacrifice. A weird one for a lighthearted MG graphic novel, I know. But really, I can think of so many examples (which I will keep secret in the name of spoiler prevention) where characters go the extra mile to make a friend happy, or bolster a sibling's self-image, or be there for someone in their moment regardless of one's own feelings. I wish these characters didn't have to be so selfless, but it is remarkably effective in creating a cast of kids who worm their way straight into readers' hearts.

Okay, I want to shout out specific characters for a bit. I mentioned Callie, and Callie is literally so great omg sob. I love her to pieces. Not only is she eternally sweet and imperfect and totally a nerd about musicals and generally the kind of person you want as your absolute best friend, but she's also brave in ways that make you proud to "know" her. She does a thing on page eight—eight!—that other kids would be working up to for a whole book. Callie just does what she wants, and I think her purple hair pretty much says that in far fewer words.

And then we have Justin and Jesse, perhaps the most iconic set of twins in children's literature (source: my hot take generator). I love these two as much as Callie, which is impressive, because I love Callie. It's far less likely that Callie's friendship with these boys would have formed as fast as it did if they weren't a duo—Jesse's warm, welcoming self is a little too far inside his shell for him to connect without Justin bringing the energy, and Justin is just a little too filled with eternal joy and excitement for Callie to click with him without a calmer counterbalance. I love how Justin and Jesse are polar opposites in some ways and totally alike in others—most importantly, that they are the sweetest kids too. And their relationship as twins comes into play in the story in some truly beautiful ways—ugh, it's so good.

And I won't harp on about this, but can we get a shout-out for Liz, Callie's perennially under-appreciated best friend who, thank gosh, does finally get the appreciation she deserves?! I love her. Wow.

We're almost done—this review actually has an end, surprisingly! Raina Telgemeier is just such a good storyteller, it's awe-inspiring. Her sense of humor is endless—there are so many plot moments and goofy facial expressions that made me giggle or laugh out loud the same way I do every time I read this book. The moments just stay with you, they're so perfect. And she has such a keen sense of character design—I feel like these kids' personalities come through the moment you see their faces, hair, and outfits. Telgemeier is also the queen of establishing shots, showing the surroundings with enough detail to get you settled into any scene instantly. And she embeds a couple gorgeous spreads that bring the joy of musical theater to life—there's a meta "intermission" for the book that shows the intermission of a play, complete with the hustle and bustle of so many individual and vivid lives out in the lobby—including a young Raina and Amara cameo!

Okay, last thing. (We made it!) I pointed out all these themes, but I want to be really clear that they live in this story like tiny mollusks in the sand—they are off the radar unless you go looking for them. And frankly, I came up with that totally contrived simile because this book is genuinely the perfect beach read—not because it's vacuous (it isn't), but because what two things in this world so perfectly balance profound meaning and delightful, blissful, simple peace as (a) the beach and (b) this book? (A bold claim, I know, but I'm sticking to it!) Drama's refusal to hit you over the head with its themes like I just did mirrors Callie's own love of theater—she makes a brief but impassioned case early in the book for the merit of a sentimental story. And really, what's so bad about someone using their incredible storytelling talents, like Raina Telgemeier has here, entirely to create a world of fun and joy?

But also, I love that our protagonist, Callie—despite all the psychology going on in her head and in the world around her—never needs to stop and analyze it all. Books are always going to be written by people who skew more attentive and obsessive on the bell curve of human existence—and that means people who go through life thinking, but not overthinking, might actually find themselves underrepresented in stories. And by creating a story where the depth, though present, is not the main attraction, and Callie is as unconcerned with it as most young readers will likely be, Drama implicitly conveys its essential respect for its protagonist. This book lets us into the mind of a kid who isn't drowning in existentialism and panic—and it shows us how that perspective is just as valid and valuable a way of seeing the world as the more jaded perspectives we might be dragging from book to book.

This book is a look at the world through the eyes of an optimistic, kindhearted kid. And what could be more of a relief than that?

Ghosts

Written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Graphic novel · 2016

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahรญa de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahรญa de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake -- and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.

· · · · · ·

I ran out of time to review this book, but I did want to chronicle that I re-read it, for completion's sake!

Bookish thoughts:

I actually wasn't planning to read exclusively Raina Telgemeier this week. I picked up another graphic novel that I was really worried wasn't going to be good. And then it ended up being really fun, and I was liking it—and then the characters who were supposed to fall in love over the course of the book got violent with each other and I was like, "Nope!" and the book went in the donation bag. Not my idea of a fun romance, let me tell you. ๐Ÿฅด

'Tis all for now—happy reading! ✨✨

Comments

  1. Drama must be good if you've reread it so many times. I like that it deals with the backstage aspects of producing a play.

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  2. It's funny the books that speak to people. I'm so glad that you enjoy this one and that it makes you happy. Hard to believe it's been eleven years since it came out, although that would explain why my library copies are held together with glue and tape. Have a great week.

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  3. I love when an author has a lot of subtle themes that sometimes it needs a second or third read (or someone who sees deeply into things) It's a great skill :). So glad you enjoyed the movie, and I agree with you about subtitles versus dubbing, I don't think I've even seen a film dubbed well!

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  4. I love how much you got out of Drama and makes me want to reread!!

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  5. I love Raina Telgemeier so, so much. My oldest son (age 9) has recently gotten interested in her books, and it's been so wonderful to relive them all through his eyes. I read them in such a different way! Thanks for joining us this week with IMWAYR. You have such great, thorough reviews! :)

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  6. I am going to recommend Drama to one of my best friends who teaches middle school Theater/Drama! Thank you

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  7. DRAMA was the first true graphic novel that hooked me into reading more graphic novels. Your review makes me want to enjoy it again which I will definitely do. Thanks for the excellent and in -depth review. Happy MMGM!

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  8. Drama is over ten years old! Hard to believe. Even ghosts I wouldn’t have thought it was way back in 2016 that it was published. Time flies when you’re reading good books!

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  9. I decided to have a Studio Ghibli film challenge a few years ago. It was fun.

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  10. I read a couple books by Raina Telgemeier a few years ago, and I thought they were really good. I'll put these on my list due to your review. Thanks for the heads up. I hardly ever read a book more than once, so the fact that you've read Drama so many times says a lot.

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  11. I feel like Telgemeier's books usually surprise adults that give them a chance. They look... this is an expression my wife uses for certain books, like fluff (not very seriouis) but there is a lot there as you point out. I haven't read Drama for a while, probably around when it came out. I should go back and re-read that one, particularly since my oldest is in high school drama. Thanks for the review.

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  12. I love a good re-read as well! Thanks for your wonderful review!

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  13. A Raina Telgemeier special for you, how awesome! I read and enjoyed and loved both books, so I am happy to see that you are loving them too. In fact, Drama was selected as our book club pick in Singapore a few years back when I was moderating a book club for young teens. Very interesting discussion. :)

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  14. Ah, Drama was excellent! One of my favorite things about it was how the same-sex crush was just so not a big thing. It was not the central point of the book, it wasn't a big deal, it was just portrayed as a normal part of middle-school life - as you say, ground-breaking for 2012!

    Thanks for another detailed, enthusiastic review :) And I think I've read every Raina book except Ghosts! I didn't realize I'd missed one - will have to check that out.

    Sue
    2023 Big Book Summer Challenge

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Please feel free to leave a comment—I always love reading them! ✨✨

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