Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Drama by Raina Telegemeier

Does he like me? Should I ask her to the dance? Did you hear about Justin?

Ah, the drama of middle school. Sometimes it seems every stroll through the hallways offers a new opportunity for gossip, romance and adventure. Seventh-grader Callie finds herself in the middle of it all as she works on the stage crew of the school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi. She longs for romance but has a knack for falling for the wrong guy, and finds that her attempts at love fizzle rather than boom, just like the play’s cannon prop. Will Callie be able to fix either before the curtain closes?

Raina Telgemeier’s book launches with a terrific premise: the drama of middle school, set against the backdrop of an actual drama production. The book itself is set up as a play within a play, with sections labeled "Overture" and "Intermission." The illustrations are bright and eye-catching, and like most graphic novels, Drama moves quickly. Most of Drama's themes are relevant to 12-14-year-olds, male and female, who will easily relate to Callierefusal to give up, despite her set-backs and personal insecurities.

Interestingly, Telegemeier regularly uses silence as a technique in the novel, and many pages lack dialogue at all, which the author attributes to her desire to let the "audience" imagine what the scene might be like. Her approach is refreshing and puts a bit more power in the readers' mind. 

Amidst what is already a drama-filled plot, Telgemeier chooses to also explore the idea of sexual identity, and many of the characters come out as gay during the course of the novel. I think it is wonderful Telgemeier opts to explore young students’ issues with sexual identity in graphic novel format, but sadly found it unrealistic that so many students would have the courage to come out during the course of the novel, not to mention that they would be so willingly accepted by their middle school peers (often without question or discussion). I see where the novel would be inspiring for adolescents who are struggling with their own sexual identity, but fear it may give them false expectations about how easy it is to come out at an age when bullying is so prevalent amongst their peers (the report Growing Up LGBT in America finds that 67% of LGBT middle school students are verbally harassed by their peers).

I would hesitate to recommend this book as required reading for a middle school language arts classroom for fear I would have 10 parents jumping down my throat for the LGBT themes, which reoccur with frequency. I think it is an important read, however, and I believe many students will find the messages inspiring, so I see this book as one I would keep on the shelves for independent reading in a middle school classroom. Unfortunately, I think the rather basic plot and immaturity of the characters make the book would alienate many older adolescents. 

That being said, I think this book would be a great read for a high school drama classroom, as students involved with stage productions would likely appreciate the plot, and chuckle over some of the mishaps that occur backstage in the days leading up to the performance. Drama would act as a nice contrast to the many plays that so often constitute high school drama classes. I also think older students (and their parents) may be better able to deal with the more mature themes in the novel.


Clarice Howard said...

I was really interested when you mention that Telegemeier does not use dialogue in every single page. I really like this idea because it really leaves it up to interpretation. The reader can imagine whatever they would like. I think this is a good strategy because it can help students develop or further their interpretation skills. It also could be interesting to have a class discussion about the different things that could be occurring while there is no dialogue. Since the readers have this power it would be a good idea to let the students voice their ideas. Students can then discuss all the ideas and then they may get new ideas that they did not think of that can contribute to the understanding of the story. I never heard of leaving out dialogue in a graphic novel, but I love it!

maria rendon said...

I like that you pointed out that this book can be useful in drama classes because there is often not a variety of books that Drama students can relate too. This book seem to have the components that can help a high school student build up their self esteem, plus I can see that it could provide great tips for those interested in Drama classes. I really enjoyed your review.

Jessica Pagliara said...

I too can see this causing a fuss with many parents in schools. However, I do like how you mentioned kids in drama maybe reading this. As a teacher, I would be kind of hesitant to have my students read such books, just because there can be such contraversy. Seems like it would be a good read.

Alexandra Klitz said...

I was a big time theatre nerd in high school and middle school. I think that there are very few novels that address the drama of being in drama. However, based on your analysis of the LGBT issue in the novel, I don't think I'd like this book. There were a lot of gay kids in the theatre department at school, but nearly none of them were out except to a handful of people. Those that were out were bullied. One of them was even sent to anti-gay therapy. I don't think I'd use this in a class for that reason.