Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Doubly happy here. I am done with my first book of 2018. And with it, I am also done with the first graphic novel of my life.

I had initially thought I might not review this. But I have been compelled to since the story did leave quite an impact on me.

I will try to keep this short.

I have had a lot of reservations about reading graphic novels in the past. Now, I am a comic book lover. But whenever I have attempted any graphic novels, I have had to put them down after a few pages.

Firstly, the artwork really matters to me. The graphic novels I have read have had too extravagant and glossy artworks for my liking. Secondly, I feel uncomfortable and get put-off if the dialogue in the speech bubbles is too congested with words crammed in whatever little space there is.

“Drama” scores on both those points. And that is what attracted me to it immediately. My eyes were instantly glued to the cover page itself and as I kept reading the novel, I realized it had a charming story to tell with some relatable characters and important messages that should appeal to all teenagers (and, perhaps, to all of us).


The story of Drama revolves around a teenage girl Callie who has been appointed as the set designer for her middle school's production of 'Moon Over Mississippi'. Callie loves theater. And while nursing a broken heart, she dives into the production, determined to create a set that would be worthy of Broadway.

Here she encounters two twin brothers with whom she instantly strikes a great bond. Pretty soon, her personal life and the drama on and off-stage becomes intertwined and leads to complications of both the heart and the work she is doing behind the stage. How she deals with those while also discovering a thing or two about relationships and her own self is the crux of the story. 

Things that I liked about Drama:

As I was reading the story, I had thought it would be a pretty cute, albeit charming, teenage drama and after the first 20 pages, had even predicted the ending. But, boy, was I wrong!
Yes, this is a middle-grade novel aimed primarily at teenage girls. But Drama has more elements to explore if you are willing to give it time.

The lead character:

Callie. Oh, Callie! This girl’s vivacious energy is absolutely infectious. She is bold. She is funny. She is inspiring. She is real.

These days, we often see teenage girls in films and television being projected as snobbish, whiny, self-centered and outright annoying.

Callie comes as a breath of fresh air. Her single-minded devotion to her passion – theatre- is motivating and how she dives into her role as a set designer is applause-worthy. Despite the numerous hurdles she faces, this plucky girl does not give up and does her job with such enthusiasm and verve you can’t help but feel inspired.

She nurses a broken heart, is confused about her feelings for a boy and yet never diverts her attention from her work. She is a dreamer, a very good friend and a jovial and adventurous person to be around.

I would like to have a friend like Callie.

The handling of homosexuality:

The issue of homosexuality and of 'coming out' in teenagers is explored very sensitively and without shying down in Drama. I am not sure how everyone would feel about this, though. Because, apparently, a few readers have had issues with the story for the way it explores gay relationships. In fact, a few Goodreads users have pointed out that their experience of reading Drama was sullied as books that are "kid friendly" should not have “inappropriate behavior” in them.

Now, I don’t even know how to react to these comments. I really don’t. I don’t want to come off as preachy, but I found some of these comments disturbing on so many levels. I am not a parent and neither am I a champion of gay rights, but to believe that talking about homosexuality in novels meant for children is scandalous is, well, upsetting. This is something that should, in fact, be addressed more openly now and given that there is a book doing just that and handling it so authentically, I would have made my child read it with an open mind.

Drama deals with the homosexuality issue in as real and genuine a way as possible. In fact, on far too many occasions I have been put off by Hollywood films and television series when they project gay men as effeminate and when their actions and behavior are used for comical effect.

In Drama, the gay characters are normal and behave as, well, normal people do. Yes, they struggle with their sexuality and the way it is expressed is very sincere.

In fact, towards the end, the “coming out” of a character, when the play is live, is done so beautifully and magnificently, that I felt like applauding. It was the moment of the book for me and gave me goosebumps. I am certain this scene will be much talked about and if it ever comes on screen, and is handled with equal grace, will be something to remember.

The behind-the-scenes working of a stage production:

While I am not a fan of theatre, I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes working of a stage production that was shown in Drama. It gives us a pretty convincing inside look of what happens behind the theatre stage.
Reading this reminded me of the time I had worked on a play while in the 4th standard (Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja). While I was the actor there, I did have a pretty decent look at the amount of hard work the crew members had to put in and Drama made me recall those times.  Yes, today the times have changed significantly, but the essence of a school stage production, I guess, has remained much the same.  

The artwork:

Ah, yes! The artwork. This, in fact, is the primary reason that had lured me towards Drama. Raina Telgemeier’s artwork and Gurihiru’s colors are absolutely gorgeous here. They have painted such vibrant and ravishing color schemes and palettes in the novel that it pulled me into its world with absolute ease and I wished I could stay inside those panels.

The beautiful artwork reminded me of my two favorite Indian cartoonists – Ram Waeerkar and Vasant Halbe – whose works for Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha have mesmerized me for decades now.

THIS is the kind of artwork that I look forward to in comics and graphic novels these days – clean, attractive, and lucid and never overboard. I am now on a mission to find out more graphic novels with similar artwork. I have tasted blood. And I want more!

In conclusion:

Drama is a terrific graphic novel with a lot of heart. Though it is aimed at teens (primarily 7th and 8th graders), adults should find it captivating as well.

It has enough  and engaging moments with witty and simple dialogues to keep your attention. The vast cast of characters is interesting and will give you several laugh-out-loud moments.

It speaks about dreams, friendships, and courage and touches on the theme of homosexuality in a very authentic manner. In all, I found Drama a heart-warming and inspiring story that had me grinning from ear to ear throughout its 240-odd pages.

Raina Telgemeier’s work as an illustrator and as a story-teller impressed me greatly and I will be looking forward to her other works eagerly.

(P.S.: I have decided to refrain from rating books from this year on. I always found giving out stars to books a tad uncomfortable. It feels a little condescending to me. I would rather just give my views on what I felt about the book and leave it there.)

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