"Drama" by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic)
Is drama club the first time in your school years that you are really given a free pass to let your freak flag fly? That may well be the case. It's certainly, for many kids, the first en counter with a creative community and one filled with difference that needs to work together. I think that may be why the arts is filled with liberals: To get anything done, tolerance of difference is a mandatory attitude to have or the show does not go on.
With "Drama," Telgemeier fol lows up her fantastic "Smile" with another tale of that awkward age when difference is inevitable and challenges negotiation on the part of the people ex periencing, specifically middle school students who aren't quite kids, are just on the cusp of teen ager-dom and only now real ly not only figuring themselves out, but figuring out what their personal feelings and quirks means in context of other people.
In "Drama," theater geek Callie gets a big opportunity to design sets for her middle school production of "Moon Over Mississippi." Not only does she need to move past the dream-come-true momentum and actually learn the craft of making sets on a tiny budget, she also has to negotiate the dynamics of a close-knit, sometimes demanding, group. Of course there are boy problems, but their complexity heralds in the adult world yet to come, and Callie must figure out how to juggle figuring out individual personalities with figuring out creative fabrication, all the while learning to exhale.
What's great about Telge mei er is her ability to address the con cerns of the age she targets without condescension or even the hint of knowing more than them, and that's probably be cause she's pulling from her own experiences. Her voice is an honest one and never pander ing, valuable and em powering to the kids who might find themselves at the very cross roads Telgemeier's stories portray.
"Sumo" by Thien Pham (First Second Books)
This graphic novel of incredible sweetness and inventive style is a story of reinvention and rebirth, told quietly and with poetry.
Scott is a former high school football hero who loses his chance at the big leagues, as well as his girlfriend, and opts to move to Japan and pursue the life of a sumo wrestler as a way to rectify his dissatisfaction. Author Pham lets Scott's life unfold in segments that reveal his experiences the night before he leaves Japan, shortly after he's been training and during the night of the match that will decide whether he continues to pursue sumo or goes home in disgrace.
It's not just a tearful story of reclaiming pride or love, nor an empowering one of sports victories pushing life forward. It's a compendium of moments that sets out to demonstrate how, in the zen mantra of the story, "every moment is a mo ment of truth" and all mo ments string together to create who you are, how you feel, how you live and what is ahead.
As a meditative adventure of living life, "Sumo" offers just the right lesson to anyone, mature, but sympathetic, to those at a turning point faced by anyone when they're young.