Skim

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Skim Book Poster Image
Graphic novel of teen misery -- authentic but mature.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Graphic elements might make it appeal more to teens who don't consider themselves readers.

Positive Messages

Coming-of-age story about a girl struggling with hard -- but not unusual -- issues, like separated parents and a biracial identity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Anyone who has every felt like an outsider (meaning pretty much every one) will find it easy to relate to Kim, the child of separated parents, biracial, and losing a great friend....

Violence

A teen commits suicide -- not shown or described.

Sex

Several references to a "handjob," masturbation, venereal disease, and a teen boy who might be gay. A teen girl and her female teacher kiss and there's a drawing of a naked girl.

Language

Lots of "f--k"s, "asshole," "boob."

Consumerism

Convenience store, soda, and snack brands.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke a lot.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's quite a bit of swearing and numerous sexual references, including the main character's crush on her female teacher, which leads to them kissing. Teens smoke a lot, and a teen boy commits suicide, possibly because he is gay. Anyone who has every felt like an outsider (meaning pretty much every one) will find it easy to relate to Kim, struggling with some intense stuff, like separated parents, a biracial identity and an impossible crush. Graphic elements might make it appeal more to teens who don't consider themselves readers.

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What's the story?

Kim, called Skim, is not happy. Her parents are unpleasantly separated, her arm is broken, her best friend is turning nasty, a boy in her class committed suicide, and she has a crush on a female teacher. She tries dressing like a goth, she tries out a wiccan ceremony, but she just sinks further into depression and existential misery. But there are no happy endings, nor sad ones -- adolescence is something to be endured with as much grace as possible, in the hope that it will eventually get better. And it does.

Is it any good?

There's not much of a story in this b&w graphic novel, and what there is seems pretty familiar -- there's no shortage of teen misery in print. There are two things that make this stand out. One is the voice: this is about as close to the way teens speak and think as you will find anywhere in literature. Author Mariko Tamaki has a golden ear for the rhythms and cadences of teenspeak, the shifting emotional content, the sometimes abrupt, sometimes laconic, usually verbally inadequate expression of deep feelings.

The second is the incredibly expressive drawings, done in long, sinuous pen-and-ink lines that perfectly capture the body language of adolescents. The wary expressions and hunched shoulders of teens just trying to get through another day add layers of meaning and understanding beyond the text. Together, text and drawings capture a portrait of a developmental stage that will make adults wince with rueful memory, but that teens will recognize instantly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the graphic elements of this book. Do they add or detract from the story? Why do you think graphic novels are so popular right now?

  • How would this novel have been different if it had been written in a more traditional fashion? Would you have been as interested in Kim's story?

Book details

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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