Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki is a stand-alone graphic novel from the young adult fiction genre, although I could argue that it is more akin to fiction for adults with young adult main characters due to the nature of the narrative. The cover for this comic had always intrigued me, and when I learned that it was an #OwnVoices Japanese-Canadian story, I was even more intrigued by it. The story tackles hard subjects relating to suicide and depression, and may not be suitable for all readers, particularly if these things are triggers for you, as they are for me, thus making it a difficult title to get through.
Skim is about a young girl named Kimberly “Skim” Keiko Cameron and her struggles with depression after a student at her school commits suicide promptly after breaking up with his girlfriend, Katie Matthews.
The entire narrative from beginning to end is a parallel of what is happening within the walls of Kim’s school and her mind. For example, as the students become more hectic and forthright in their prolific desire to milk the event for attention and popularity points, Kim begins to do the same with herself. Her thoughts and conflicts with her mother strain on her, and she becomes just as frank with a sudden taboo romantic interest. Her classmate’s suicide is something that she takes lightly and shows no interest in initially, brought upon by the highly judgmental and overbearing influence of her best friend, with whom she begins to develop disdain for as she comes to terms with the bitterness of her romantic feelings and starts to confront her own Depression.
The storytelling itself will be hit-or-miss for many readers as it follows the postmodern literary prose, focusing on fragmentation. This is enhanced by the journal style, first-person telling of the events, thoughts, and feelings that create the dark and uncomfortable ambiance of the high school setting and Kim’s homelife. The fragmentation is something I felt worked rather well for the narrative due to how intimate and personal it can be at times. However, it is simultaneously off-putting due to the intrinsically choppy plot progression, vague finale, and clamorous illustrations.
The bulk of the story is told via the art as it works as a lens for Kim’s point-of-view. The art is monochromatic and consists of a blending of expressionism and contemporary realism, with classic Japanese wood-block aesthetics, utilising charcoal drawings. It complements the main character’s identity as a Goth and a newly practising Wiccan, as well as to supplement the very dark subject matter that veils the story from start to finish, particularly in ideals associated with depression and death.
Overall, I enjoyed Skim for what it is, although as I’ve mentioned earlier, I don’t feel it is a book that will resonate with every reader as there are content triggers & subject matter pertaining to suicide, depression, homophobia, fatphobia, and bullying.
3 tarot cards outta 5!
This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki is another stand-alone graphic novel by the duo that is labelled as young adult fiction, and I would once more argue that it is adult fiction with kids as the main characters, mostly due to its intensely heavy subject matter. However, young adults can read it fairly easily with some caution from parents, and this merely a personal observation. I found this at the library and picked it up because I recognised the authors as being some I’ve wanted to test out, and when I flipped through it briefly, I was mesmerised by the gorgeous artistry of it.
This One Summer is about a young girl named Rose, who goes to Awago Beach every summer with her parents. This year, however, things are vastly different as her parents will not stop arguing, and there are fewer trips to the actual beach and ocean for swimming and summer fun. Left to her own devices, Rose spends most of her time with her friend named Windy, who is a local of Awago Beach. Together the girls explore and bullshit around town, even getting unwisely involved in the affairs of a local teenage boy.
The graphic novel contains within it a sensationally beautiful yet tragic story about the significant and lasting effects of serious trauma and loss. There is a subtle, yet powerful exploration of how deep-rooted trauma and grief can affect not only the individual who has experience said trauma, but everyone around them with whom they are close. A lot those negative rippling consequences tend to flourish in the wake of not processing and being able to overcome the terrible agony that comes with an unimaginable loss and pain. This part of the book hit home for me in the most personal of ways as I was reminded of the person I had become in the wake of my brother’s death, and all of the individuals who wanted to help me, however, ultimately could not due to my own stubborn refusal to accept reality. For people familiar with this experience, read cautiously, as I probably should have done.
While you have this one section, there’s a whole other part involving Rose. Rose is young and prepubescent, dealing with awkward feelings of romance and hormones that are starting to sprout up in the most uncomfortable of ways. She is also wholly lonely and confused by the disposition of her parents’ conflicts and desperately wanting attention. Rose feels abandoned and sees one of her parents as the cause behind all of the strife that is ruining what was supposed to be a perfect family vacation. So, she does what any kid her age would do, she lashes out in the worst of ways, turning into a spiteful and angry little bag of gangly flesh and bones. This makes her a very difficult character to empathise with, but it also really nails home that notion of depression rather intimately.
Everything is brilliantly captured by the singularly purple-tinged monochromatic illustrations of Jillian Tamaki’s. It takes a combination of contemporary realism and classic cartoon aesthetics to subtly dissect serious subject matters in an easier-to-consume manner. Her drawings are breath-takingly elegiac, fully capturing the air of melancholy that shrouds the entire comic from beginning to end. The purple colour is very much an artistic execution for purple prose, as well, with the amount of rich details that go into every panel, from the settings of the beach and locales to the character expressions and emotions that are real yet flowery.
This One Summer is an exquisitely evocative and provocative story about a family that has lost its way due to circumstances in life that was out of their control, and the challenges that they face while struggling to find their way to one another, and to find a means of moving forward. It’s about being young and self-absorbed in the comfortable naivety that youth brings. But it’s also about seeing past the purple haze of mourning to the sunrise of a future that lays beyond the horizon.