It’s an amazing time for graphic novels for kids, and Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward is only the latest astoundingly good one I’ve read.
It’s the story of Peppi, who’s just started at a new school. In order not to stand out in the wrong ways, she does something early on she’s ashamed by, something to avoid bullies that hangs over her memories and keeps her from being her full self.
She finds the art club, though, and she enjoys her time there creating. Then the aspiring artists aren’t allowed to appear at the school fair, because their club doesn’t actually do anything but provide a place to hang out. The principal wants to see more interaction with other students and more contributions to the community. For a young artist, that’s a revolutionary idea, to consider the context of making art, not just creating for its own sake.
The science club did get a fair table, because they win awards. The two groups are rivals and competitors, but they also engage in fun activities together, like geocaching.
The messages are heartwarmingly honest and something any age can benefit from: don’t prejudge who might be a great friend, and don’t fall into stereotypes of only being able to be “artistic” or “scientific”. But there’s a lot more to the story than just well-meaning life lessons. The kids are three-dimensional in their attitudes, which also includes funny situations.
I loved the two teachers, both the kick-butt achieving science supervisor and the less-organized, out-of-it art guide. (In a nice twist, the science teacher is a woman and the scattered artist a man.) Miss Tobins, particularly, is inspiring in her tough but fair expectations.
Artistically, I particularly noted the coloring, which is done in faded tones. It’s soft and easy on the eyes, but for an older reader, it also adds an air of sepia-toned memory of one’s own school days, and what could have been done better or differently.
The substantial length means there’s lots of space for a variety of activities to play out, and it makes the changing attitudes of the kids more realistic. I enjoyed spending so much time with Peppi and her classmates, seeing them grow and learn. Events resolve in surprising but rewarding ways, as the kids get to know each other as people instead of stereotypes.