Peppi Torres is the new kid at school, and it’s middle school. No matter how much she plans ahead to survive it all with grace, it seems like things go wrong in a big way. She drops all her stuff and gets lumped in with the school nerd. She gets away from him by being mean, regrets it, doesn’t say anything, and then ends up having him as her science tutor. Oh, the daily humiliation! Oh, the awkwardness of it all!
Awkward is Peppi’s story first, but the characters and situations ring true to anyone who’s had an unpleasant time of it at that age. There’s a boy obsessed with sunspots, a girl focused only on beating the science club at anything, mean kids, and quirky teachers. The story captures those intense moments when you think you know who you want to be, but you just haven’t gotten there yet. It seems like everything is ganging up on you to keep you from getting there. Waiting is not easy. (True for Elephant & Piggie in the Mo Willems’ book of the same name. No less true for a twelve year old.)
Comic books were not considered literature when I was a kid. It didn’t matter; I still loved what I loved — the thrill of getting a new comic book, reading the story, and looking at the weird ads. It was always over too soon. A few things have changed with comics and graphic novels since then, especially the quality of the storylines and the variety of topics. (There might well have been great storylines and huge variety when I was younger, too, but I was mostly a Richie Rich fan. Enough said.)
And there are still people who don’t feel that the work counts as “good” reading. I frequently have parents come in to the library who don’t want their kids to read graphics, because they need to be reading “real” books. Really? Not even for fun? With video games, Netflix, and distracting apps, you’d think people would be happy to have kids read anything. Have they even picked up a graphic novel in the last ten years?
I think they’re just assuming they know what graphic novels are all about. And they’d mostly be wrong. Graphic novels might not be for everyone – some people just don’t really like the visuals along with the text – but there is such variety and such good stuff that it seems nuts to take away the option from any young readers. Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward fits right in there with the best of them.
Some other favorites:
Amulet series – Kazu Kibuishi
Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke
El Deafo, Cece Bell
Babymouse, Squish series, and Sunny Side Up – Jennifer Holm
Big Nate series – Lincoln Peirce
Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson
Smile, Drama, Sisters – Raina Telgemeier
Jedi Academy series – Jeffrey Brown
Also graphic versions of The Graveyard Book, The Lightning Thief, The City of Ember, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Wonderstruck, The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick (a text/graphic blend)