I have a mad girl crush on Raina Telgemeier*. Her work is fresh, funny, sweet, and relevant. She is a master of her craft and has created a name for herself middle grade graphic novels for girls that feel just as rich, resonant, and fun as traditional novels. I gushed on and on about her semi-memoir Smile, and begged for a reading copy of Drama, which given it’s school musical connection, could not be more perfect for me.
When her school chooses a big, glossy, golden age musical for their annual production, set designer Callie has big dreams (a canon that really fires, a magnolia tree featuring leaves that actually fall to the stage at a key romantic moment) which given her lack of carpentry skills and minimal budget is proving more than a little challenging. Throw in her long-time crush, two new cute AND talented brothers, and a friend who is interested in something more, and Callie has more drama than she can handle.
There is lots to love here. What better backdrop for middle school drama than a production of a school musical? I admit to being slightly biased, having used similar settings for Love is a Four-Letter Word. As a retired theatre rat I loved all the musical theatre references and funny social dramas that arise from the close communal process of “putting on a show.” I loved that the book is more about the stage crew- those unsung heroes- than the cast. Disaster strikes during the show, creating a lot of opportunties for characters to shine and plenty of fist-pumping moments for the reader.
Everyone is here- the diva lead actress, suave male lead, quirky funny boy who just happens to be gay, the shy member of stage crew who really just wants a chance to sing- the list goes on and on. Telgemeier plays with these tropes so no one feels two-dimensional or too much like a stock character. I especially appreciated how she handled Justin coming out to Callie in a funny, honest, and casual discussion, just between friends. Although it’s an important (and rare scene in MG fiction), it was understated and not in the least a capital I “Issue”.
Telgemeier writes the kind of fun, relatable middle grade fiction that inspires devotion and gushing among her young (and slightly older) fans. I have warm bookstore memories of girls (both non-readers and voracious readers) who would RUN to the bookshelves, grab a copy of Smile, and hug it closely while explaining to their friends just why they HAD to read it NOW. Let’s hope Telgemeier can keep knocking them out of the park!
Here is the adorable book trailer for DRAMA:
Drama is available in hardcover and paperback from Scholastic Canada in early September.
*Seriously. I think we could be really great friends. I imagine Raina, Jenny Han, Kirsten Miller and I hanging out at a cool diner on a rainy Saturday afternoon drinking milkshakes and talking about books and our mutual crushes on John Green, like the best writing group EVER. Then Kit Pearson drops by to give us advice and you pretty much have my dream afternoon.