When the graphic novel Skim opens, its lesbian teen protagonist, Kimberly Keiko Cameron (aka Skim), has just broken her arm on her mother’s candelabra that she was using for her Wicca altar. The broken arm isn’t really an issue except when Skim tries to photograph her cast with her left hand or writing her name. Plus, it gets her out of physical education.
After the suicide of a local teen boy from another school, the students and faculty at Skim’s school become hyper-aware of the students’ happiness (or, rather, their potential to commit suicide). Multiple classmates and adults approach Skim in particular because she is a quiet, goth-esque teenager—supposedly a stereotype for at-risk youth. Everyone seems to be worried about her well being, except for Skim that is.
Told in part diary format, part inner monologue, the Tamaki cousins link snippets of Skim’s days and weeks, highlighting conversations with her best friend Lisa, her attempts at witchcraft, the girls at school and her curious relationship with her English teacher, Ms. Archer. Skim’s storyline also parallels Katie Matthew’s, the ex-girlfriend of John Reddear, through Skim’s observations and interactions with her.
The illustrations are done in black and white and mainly focus on the characters’ emotions. Skim’s diary pages can be anything from a half a page to a double page spread, coupling sparse illustrations with minimal text. Both angles of the story telling reinforce Skim’s character: when she speaks, it matters, and she is still a teenager with big, teenager feelings.
What I appreciated most about this graphic novel was its gentle portrayal of Skim. While various characters try to figure out what is going on with her—why she is quiet, upset or aloof, etc.—Skim is just being Skim, reserved, relatively free of drama, and experiencing her own kind of heartbreak. She is true to herself, and in doing so she has the capacity to hear someone else’s heartbreak— and that results in an unlikely but pleasant connection. Overall, a tender portrait of first loves, school friendships, and the importance of compassion.
[Check out Erica’s other writing at her website.]