July: Skim, by Mariko Tamaki (author) and Jillian Tamaki (artist)

Kim is struggling with confusion, depression, occasional social rejection, and the exciting, frightening recognition of herself as a sexual being. Despite the many differences between myself and Skim‘s marvellous protagonist, I felt as if the book was often speaking directly to my own teenage experience.

KIMBERLY KEIKO CAMERON: This guy I don’t know suicided and everyone at my school is stupid and it’s hard to practice Wicca and I think I’m in love with my English teacher. She kissed me.
ME: Oh, honey.
KIM: Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I have ever been.
ME: God, it so was.

Kim is a pudgy Japanese-Canadian girl in a private school that, from her depressed viewpoint, appears to be overrun with popular skinny white girls. Her nickname of “Skim” is just one of the ways such girls delineate her difference from them.

Refreshingly, Kim doesn’t particularly want to be accepted by the cool kids, but she’s hardly happy to be on the outside. She’s hardly happy about anything.

After the suicide, the boy’s ex-girlfriend fell off the school roof, breaking both her arms – maybe on accident, maybe on purpose. Now the popular girls are frantically trying to pretend depression doesn’t happen, fighting back the spectre of mortality with relentless pep.

Kim is overwhelmed.

But she’s getting by.

Skim is a beautiful, beautiful book, with stark, delicate art perfectly conveying Kim’s emotional complexity and her changing relationships. The wonderful two-page spread of Kim and Ms. Archer kissing is especially good, but Tamaki’s art also conveys smaller moments of wordless action and communication with grace.

Wisely, dialogue does not overwhelm the silences which convey tension or adoration. When words do appear, the language reads as authentically teenaged, sometimes meandering inarticulately around a point, and sometimes diving to the heart of the matter with devastating directness. Kim’s thoughtful, metaphoric diary entries are a particular highlight.

For a book that deals uncompromisingly with the darkness adults would often like to pretend doesn’t genuinely afflict teenagers, Skimis also cautiously optimistic. The story doesn’t end with everything perkily fine and dandy for Kim, but offers realistic hope that, eventually, she’ll be as okay as people get.

Basically, I want to thrust this book into the hand of every teenage girl, in the hope that it might speak to them as it did to me.

Violence: Suicide, and a fair amount of non-physical, psychological bullying.

Sexualised Violence: None.

Gender: Most of the characters are female.

The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Absolutely passes.

Minorities: Kim is one of a few Asian-Canadian characters – this is explicitly dealt with as part of her isolation, rather than being overlooked by the creators. Her relationship with her teacher is sensitively portrayed, as is her depression, which receives no magical cure.