Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

John at The Book Mine Set has asked bloggers to review Canadian books with a Japanese connection; if more than 10 books are reviewed this month, he’ll donate $200 to the Red Cross for their Japan earthquake relief efforts.

Skim is a graphic novel featuring Kimberly Keiko Cameron (aka Skim), a sixteen-year-old navigating the high school jungle with a characteristic mix of apathy and intensity.  Skim is half-Asian, chubby,  interested in the occult arts, and believes that her school is a “goldfish tank of stupid”. As you’ve probably guessed by now, she has few friends. But things shake up in school when a popular girl’s boyfriend commits suicide (perhaps because he was gay), and when Skim finds herself attracted to Ms. Archer, the new English teacher. As Skim slouches to adulthood, she learns that high school’s hothouse friendships can bloom and wither overnight, that adults aren’t always to be relied upon, and that love is a confusing but splendiferous thing. I want to congratulate Skim; I was way past sixteen when I realized this stuff.

The graphic novel format demands brevity, and if Mariko Tamaki nails Skim’s internal life as much with what she says as what she leaves out,  Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations  perfectly balance the absences in this story–odd angles and open spaces reinforce Skim’s isolation and loneliness.  I don’t have the technical vocabulary to describe the artwork, but damn, even my neophyte gaze can tell that the illustrations advance the story rather than just illuminating it. And for all the intimacy of the narrative (the story is framed around Skim’s diary entries), the novel also reads as a comment on the bigger issues of our time, including racism, girl-on-girl meanness, and homophobia.

Note: Skim resurrected my adolescent memories from their too-shallow grave, and I had to read me some Twilight to re-inter them.  Consider yourselves warned. And oh, if you read my previous post, you can see the sketch that Jillian Tamaki drew on the flyleaf of my copy of Skim.

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Groundwood Books, 2008