This short (about 140 pages) graphic novel was created by the same Canadian cousin team that gave us This One Summer. In fact this graphic novel was their first. Nominated for an Eisner (among other awards), Skim is the story of Kim (aka Skim), a Japanese Canadian teen who is struggling with a variety of issues, including matters related to sexuality, depression and suicide.
The story is told in three parts. Part I: Fall, takes place in fall but is also about falling. Kim serves as our narrator via her diary, and through her entries we learn about her relationships and her dreams. Kim’s parents are divorced and she lives with her mother and cat. Kim is deeply interested in Wicca, as is her friend Lisa, but Kim’s interest seems sincere, Lisa’s more superficial. Lisa can be snarky and downright mean sometimes, and this is especially evident when one of the popular girls, Katie, is dumped by her boyfriend who later commits suicide. Through her diary, Kim reveals things she would never say to Lisa, like that she thinks Lisa is an idiot sometimes. And Lisa can be really mean to Kim. The fact that she calls Kim “Skim” is a sign of this. Skim is the nickname others gave her due to her size (she is not skim). After Katie’s boyfriend dies, counselors are deployed at the school to help students with their grief and to identify those at risk for depression and suicide. Kim, due to her Goth appearance and quiet demeanor, is generally considered an at-risk student, which she finds puzzling. John Reddear, the boy who died, was popular, athletic and seemingly happy, but he was apparently depressed and suicidal. Kim wonders, “How come all the girls on the soccer team aren’t in counseling?” Meanwhile, Kim occasionally skips class to smoke in the woods outside school, and there she encounters her English teacher Ms. Archer. As they meet secretively to smoke and talk, Kim falls in love.
In Part II: No Rest for the Wicked, Kim’s relationships deteriorate and she becomes more and more depressed. Meanwhile, Katie has fallen off the roof of her house and been injured. The popular girls start the Girls Celebrate Life club, which seems to be a vehicle for their own self importance and gratification rather than for genuinely helping others. The fact that they have always and continue to treat Kim like garbage is proof of this. Kim’s entries show the reader her growing alienation and despair as well as her feelings of isolation. Her belief in and practice of Wicca provide no help or solace. In Part III: Goodby (Hello), Kim and the reader learn more about Katie, who is not the person we might have thought from Part I, and Kim will begin to come to terms with some of the issues she has been wrestling.
This novel does a truly wonderful job of showing what depression might look and feel like for its characters, particularly when that depression is related to love and heartbreak, and when it might be related to one’s sexual orientation in a world that does not accept non-heterosexual relationships easily. I think Mariko Tamaki’s characters are recognizable to anyone who attended high school, and I think she does a great job showing that depression can strike anyone. Jillian Tamaki’s artwork, in black, white and gray, gives characters their own distinctive looks, and the background details are beautiful. Key points to the story are told visually instead of being spelled out with words. Mariko and Jillian make a brilliant storytelling team. I admire their ability to tackle difficult topics so deftly and with such care. This novel is categorized as YA, for ages 14 and older, and would make good reading for the teens in your life