Created by: Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki
Published by: Groundwood Books
ISBN: 0888997531 (Amazon)
Being neither a teenage girl nor overly sympathetic toward the needlessly mopey, I am pretty clearly not the target audience for Skim. I’m sure that if I were of like age, culture, and circumstance with Skim‘s lead, Kimberly Keiko Cameron, I might find the book soul-piercing and intelligent.
But I’m not and so I don’t.
There is one singular obstacle facing any author who hopes to present a story featuring realistically portrayed teenagers: teens are uninteresting. Their problems are generally overblown trivialities. Their insights are comically common, with the depth of a drying brook. Their social perception is little better than that of gradeschoolers—and what growth exists is generally diminished by an acute absence of wisdom. It’s good then that most authors diminish the realism of their teenage protagonists for the sake of their story, substituting instead younger versions of their adult selves.
I mean, it’s fine to have the occasional literary novel posit a realistic kid just so readers unfamiliar with our younger world-companions will remember that teenagers are really just like adults minus the perspective, wisdom, and restraint that experience grants those who live to be older than teenagers. But really, do we need more Harry Potter: Book Fives? Because in case you forgot, Harry was a repellent little punk in that book. Whiny, moody, reckless, selfish, and irritable. Harry was not someone whom I really wanted to spend that entire book with.
And it’s pretty much the same thing with Skim.
Kim, as protagonist, is not someone who captures reader interest. She bears the typical marks of teen self-righteousness, believing herself wise and aloof, better than those around her. She describes herself—in that perfectly elitist manner that seems unique to those who haven’t really seen much of the world—as a freak, as someone whom those around her could never possibly understand even if given the time an infinite number of monkeys are usually allotted to complete literary masterworks. She’s kind of a more reserved, less acerbic, less funny version of Ghost World‘s Enid. She’s also a bit of a dilettante, dabbling in the arts and in an amateurish brand of Wicca (she has an altar in her bedroom, goes to the woods to summon a recently deceased student, and wears charms meant to bring her love). She’s exactly as miserable as you would expect her to be. She is, after all, a teenager deeply in love with herself and the prison she can turn life into. (No offense to Wiccans or teenagers who aren’t these things.)
In the end, her troubles are typical and her response to them expected. There is no story to her story. Skim might as well be biography for how mundane it all is—biography of a perfectly average life with nothing to recommend it. There’s a reason that people don’t read biographies of the average person, that they don’t salivate to discover what occurs next in the life of Joe the bus driver or Cheryl the data analyst or Tom the elementary school custodian. It’s not that such people can’t be fascinating on an individual level or don’t lead wholly worthwhile lives. It’s more just that their stories aren’t different enough from our own to merit our interest.
Now don’t read me as saying there’s no place for teenagers or average people or mundane stories in fiction. Great literature is lousy with the stuff. The problem is when these stories either don’t take their characters to new places or, in choosing to maroon their characters in personal stagnation, have nothing to add to the human conversation. If a Cheryl-the-data-analyst story chronicling the humdrum of the day-in-and-out had a point or explored Cheryl in an interesting fashion or gave us a better view of ourselves, then maybe a story about Cheryl would merit the pages devoted to her. Stories don’t have to be all about churning out one exciting event after another. Things besides plot are allowed to arc. An interesting bit of insight or turn of character could have turned Skim around in a heartbeat—or at least nudged it in the right direction. I kept waiting for that to come.
Note to teachers: it’s never appropriate to kiss your students in the woods.
Even if it’s a lesbian kiss.
Despite the fact that Skim, as a story, fails to generate anything better than ambivalence toward its characters’ plights, the book’s dialogue is competent enough. None of the characters seem overblown or outlandish and there’s not a lot of the kind of unbelievable soliloquy that often inhabits the day-in-the-life genre (writer Mariko Tamaki saves that for the journal-entry narration that interprets all events for us). Really, I could see almost everything in this book actually happening and I could believe that a sixteen year-old would write about these things in this manner. Unfortunately, I think Skim could use a little less believability.
Really, it’s a shame about the story. And not just because I had to read through the entire thing. Artist Jillian Tamaki does a beautiful job with the script she’s given. Her characters flow naturally and her balance of white and black and midtones set a number of visually impressive stages. She excels especially in her drawings of the woods, lending a very organic sense to these two-dimensional representations. Actually, the same could be said for some of her figure-work as well. Particularly, the way in which she renders Kim in soft, rounded lines gives the girl a sense of believability.
Strange how I’m praising believability in the art but lashing out
against it in the writing,but that’s just the way this one falls out.
I am not the target audience for Skim. The only problem is that I’m not sure who is. Maybe a very particular sort of teenager (or an adult attached to re-evaluating their own pasts through the mistakes of fictional characters) could find its contents invigourating. Maybe I’m not being generous enough. But at the end of the day, while the book has certain qualities to recommend it, Skim was a chore for me to finish and so I’m hard pressed to recommend the book to anyone.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
1 Star = Bad
I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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