Drama Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-12-06 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 624 user ratings


Drama, by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel dealing with both the on- and off-stage drama that takes place during a middle school production of a school play. Several things about the book are quite well-done. First, the characters are pretty representative of many personalities one might see in a true middle school, and they are dealing with many of the same issues that middle schoolers deal with: changing friendships, the desire for more freedom amid the continued reliance on parents for transportation and money, crushes, academic difficulty, and quickly changing emotions, get the picture. The book's main character, Callie, is a protagonist that students can look up to. She isn't perfect-- but she tries to make good decisions, builds on her strengths, and is a kind and caring friend. She is accepting and open-minded-- a good model of tolerance for those who are different from oneself. Finally, Telgemeier does a great job at promoting student theatre. She uses technical terms that those who have been around the stage will understand and relate to, and she also makes it quite clear that you don't have to be a singer or actor to get involved-- Callie knows that she isn't a great singer, but she shines at set design and production, and this is where she is a "star". Students who read this book may learn that they can get involved in a school activity like drama in many different ways.

I think this is the first time I've written a review for a graphic novel, and while it isn't my number 1 favorite genre, I know my students often gravitate to these books. Drama has been a favorite in my classroom library ever since I bought it. I didn't realize the maturity level of some of the content until one of my students read the book and wrote about it in her book journal. When she mentioned that one of the boys in the book is gay, I was mildly shocked--partly because of the nonchalant way in which this fourth grader dealt with the topic (she is the youngest in her family and has teenaged siblings), but mostly because I hadn't realized that I had a book dealing with the situation of sexual preferences in my 3rd-5th grade classroom library. I do try to read as many of the books that I put into my classroom as possible, but with more than 1000 titles, I obviously don't read them all. I rely a lot on reading reviews and checking the suggested age levels when selecting books to add, and none of those things alerted me to what could be controversial content. When a parent questioned me about it, I decided I had better read the book to decide how to best use it in my room. Don't get me wrong--I think there is definitely a need and a place for books that deal with difficult issues in our classrooms. Reading a book dealing with a particular situation or issue can help readers dealing with similar issues to cope and not feel so alone, and can help those who have not experienced the issue to have greater insight and empathy for those who do or have in the past. That's one great reason to read fiction! I also think it is important for students to have characters in books that they can relate to--characters who are like them. For a preteen or teenager who is struggling with his/her sexual identity, it can be helpful to read about characters who are experiencing the same things. This particular issue is becoming more prevalent at younger ages, and Drama addresses the issue tastefully and with very little detail. Callie is very accepting of the boy who shares his feelings regarding other boys with her, and still considers him a good friend. STILL, there are parents who are not going to be comfortable with their 10 year-old reading this book, no matter what the suggested age-range is on the back.

I've decided to keep Drama in my classroom library, but in the "5th grade" section. I will likely begin my school year with a general letter to parents explaining my stance on books and how I select them for my classroom. It is always the parents' prerogative to tell their child they would prefer they don't read a particular book. In the case of Drama, my 5th graders can choose the book, and if their parents take issue, they can decide to "ban" their own child from reading it without my having to ban it from my classroom.

" said.

" Loved this cute graphic novel. It felt like it took me right back to 8th grade. Super cute and fun! " said.

" Normally I don't like graphic novels too much, but this book was so good! I expected it to be really cliche honestly, but it really wasn't. The art was super good, and I fully understood the plot. I loved the characters (well except for two, but you weren't supposed to like them anyway), and they were so well written. I really enjoyed this book overall! " said.

"Drama by Raina Telgemeier
[Looking back over my shoulder / I can see that look in your eye
Turning my heart over and over / I never wanted to say goodbye]

Raina Telgemeier's Drama has been reaping a handy collection of end of the year awards, both physical (I presume) and abstract (crafted of the finest internet points!). Publishers Weekly, Washington Post, New York Times. Booklist, NPR, School Library Journal. They all loved it. In the realm of young adult graphic lit, it's been a good year for Drama.

Which made me feel strange about my staunch ambivalence for the work.

I don't usually feel a little bit bad for not appreciating a book so well as nearly everyone else, but it does happen. Underwater Welder was another one. I think it has to do with both a) having deep wells of respect for the creator and b) having appreciated their previous work. Also, it helps that I imagine I like both Lemire (Underwater Welder's creator) and Telgemeier. I don't know either one but by their creations they strike me as Worthwhile People. This pile of well-regard leaves me troubled when I finish a book that peer pressure suggests I adore, but it just doesn't come together for me. I feel a bit embarrassed and a bit awkward. And a bit like one of Raina Telgemeier's characters in this book.

Too on the nose? Yeah, probably. In any case, let's not labour overly hard on how bad I feel. Instead, let's just get down to it.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
[Over the laws of light / Over the moon by midnight / Let's do it all this time]

Part of why I'm torn on Drama is that Telgemeier has developed a tremendously likable and predictable style. When you open one of her books, you know it's her. The clean, organic lines and strong colour choices that sell her stories are completely fluid. They're actually enjoyable and give life to the experience of reading her works. A lot of good books boast great art and strong stylistic direction, but few can tout the happy exuberance of Telgemeier's work. I love her drawing and her character designs. She's a champ as a cartoonist, conveying story dynamically through expressions, posture, and action. Her static drawings are animated and I wish I could draw half so well.

Another of Drama's excellencies is Telgemeier's choice of protagonist. Callie is a good person. A girl on the brink of the terrors of high school who probably might not even encounter those social nightmares as anything of the kind. She's smart, disciplined, and energetic. And she's got a social collective that can soften the blows of even the most uncomfortable teenage mistakes. As Telgemeier writes her, Callie is an independent thoughtful heroine who is strengthened by her participation in society and in her embrace of community. Plus, at some point before the story's start, Callie boldly dyes her hair shocking pink and Telgemeier awesomely feels comfortable in never offering any explanation for the action.1

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
[So I'm lying here / Just staring at the ceiling tiles
And I'm thinking about what to think about]

That said, there were things that kept me from tracking with the book quite so well as I might have. One may seem legitimate but minor and the other one may seem petty and bizarre.

In the first, despite the fact that I enjoyed all of Drama's characters, I never was able to believe they were seventh and eighth graders. These kids function both interpersonally and in their school activities as if they were juniors and seniors in high school. While not without their hormonal dramas, these kids are responsible, kind, smart, and mature. They are pretty much exactly what I don't remember from junior high. They are pretty much exactly what I didn't see while working with junior high kids a few years back. They are pretty much exactly what my wife doesn't see in the junior high kids she teaches on a daily basis. They don't behave at all like the kids they are.

It's possible though that my experiences merely constituted a bad sample. It's possible that Telgemeier and her friends were pretty much exactly as self-possessed as Callie and her friends are. It's possible, but my own experiences inform my reading and so I was pulled out of the book every time we're reminded that Callie is a seventh grader.

(I suppose though that one possibility is that this book is written to the junior-high-aged reader and not to nearly forty-year-olds like me and that the book is meant to serve as a kind of pedagogical story. I suppose Telgemeier might be showing junior highers their ideal potential, what they might be if only they could emulate these characters instead of the selfish, shallow ones that other media toss their way. Or she might just be appealing to their vanity. I don't know.)2

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
[This is the scene in which Callie tells Greg that she doesn't know how (because they totally used protection that one time!) but he's a father now... Only that never happened. But it looks like it did, right?]

But as I suggested, that complaint (while possibly legitimate) is pretty trivial and the reader should be able to overlook it with a slight bit of reality suspension. The real problem, for me (and possibly only for me), was that Drama holds too true to its name: there was just too much drama. And by that, I mean melodrama. Everyone is just so earnest and surprised and invested and passionate and, well, it just kind of made me uncomfortable. Telgemeier telegraphs the key to the central dilemma at the end of the book's first quarter and spends the rest of the book building toward the colossal misunderstanding against which the ship of Drama's plot must break. We know what the characters don't and so we watch them twist and struggle. I didn't enjoy that feeling, being close enough to omniscient that I could warn these characters of their folly and deflate the strength of later tragedy and embarrassment—if only I wasn't so completely transcendent that interaction was impossible.

I know some readers probably thrive on that brand of tension. I'm sure daytime television's biggest demographic would be right at home with Drama. But because that kind of story makes me uncomfortable and I get no joy from all the over-drama, Drama is not a book I enjoyed. I recognize the value of the craft that went into it and I love some of Telgemeier's other work. But in the end, Drama's obvious strengths can't overcome its apparent role, for me, as an obstacle to fun.

1) That Telgemeier also had the attention to her own details to leave Callie's eyebrows their natural light brunette was not lost on me and was deeply appreciated.

2) And this is the point at which I start getting notes from junior highers telling me I'm obviously too old to remember what it's like to be them and plenty of junior highers are good, mature, responsible people. This happened with my Octavian Nothing review, in which I suggested that I knew few teens who could actually appreciate the complexity of the work.

[Review courtesy of Good Ok Bad.]
" said.

" Amazing! This is unusual for me to read a book in one day. It very often where I finished a book in a day. This book is really good. " said.

" (3.5 stars) Super cute, an unexpected ending, and colorful, fun art! " said.

" Drama is one of my favorite books because it shows that being gay is ok. Also that you don't need to keep it a secret from all of your friends. If one of your friends are feeling down ask them what's wrong. This book shows that things change between friends. Being gay isn't bad it's not wrong to like the Same sex. Same sex is ok some people like the same sex some don't. " said.

"( 4.5 stars )

"what'd you buy?"
"A bookmark!"
"Well, I wrote down a list of sixty-five books I NEED to own... Maybe I'll get'em as Christmas presents! Or for my birthday! Hmm, I'm not graduating till next spring, too bad..."

This book turned out to be better than I'd expected it to be! It's really interesting and fun. It's a light read, you can read it in one sitting without even noticing :D
I am in love with the characters. I can relate a lot to Callie!! She's a really fun, creative and lovable character <3

This made me fall in love with comic books, I wasn't a big fan of comics before but it seems really interesting, its slowly becoming my favorite!!
" said.

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