Raina Telgemeier is amazing and I wish she had been writing when I was a tween. As it is, I’m happy to be able to give these books to my daughters and enjoy the nostalgia they bring me. Her first two graphic novels are autobiographical, Smile and Sisters. This time around she drew from her life experiences of middle school and doing theater to create an original work titled Drama, and it has lived up to it’s name. In 2015 Drama had the honor of being on the “Most frequently challenged books in America” list put out by the American Library Association. I was aware of this and vaguely thought it had something to do with a gay character. My trust in Raina was such that when my 10 year old daughter learned of it’s existence and begged for it, I got it for her without question and didn’t bother to read it first to check for suitability. Having now read it for myself, that faith was well placed.
Drama is the story of Callie, a seventh grader with a love for theater. Early on she realized that her talents did not lie on the stage and instead threw herself into the world of the work that is necessary backstage to bring a production to life. The title in this sense is literally about doing a play. From elementary school through my associates degree I lived and breathed theater, both acting and working backstage. Every aspect of the story that dealt with putting on the play had me nodding along as it agreed with my memories and hit my nostalgia bone, hard. A neat aspect of the graphic novel is that the whole book design goes along with the play production motif. On the publication page much of the information is presented on a theater ticket. The book is divided into an overture, acts, a curtain call, and even ends with the light that is traditionally left on an empty stage.
The other meaning of Drama is what is happening in and around Callie. Like many a middle schooler, Callie and her classmates struggles with the age old dilemma of romance. Liking someone who doesn’t like you back, someone who only appreciates you after the fact, and the back and forth of breaking up and getting back together. Drama also has a gay character going along with his own romantic travails with the added layer of, “I’m attracted to him but is he attracted to other guys?”. The wonderful thing about Drama is that the characters are just kids. Nothing is made of who likes whom, or even necessarily the solidity of knowledge that a person is gay, bi, questioning, or whatever, they just are.
I try very hard to not present relationships to my daughters in only a heteronormative way. While we have explained the terms gay and lesbian before, this book helped bring about another conversation and understanding of what those words mean. I appreciate how Raina wrote about the subject in a very approachable way for younger audiences.
I can’t recommend this, or Raina’s other works, highly enough. Get it for the tween in your life or get it for yourself, these books are wonderful and Raina is amazing.