I had never read a graphic novel until I picked up Skim, but I was definitely interested in doing so. I initially started with The Watchmen, which I found terribly hard to follow (the boyfriend informed me after this first futile foray that it is a particularly difficult graphic novel). Having come across some of Mariko’s writing recently and having been completely sucked in by it reminded me of the highly-praised Skim, so I decided to give it a try.
I’m happy to say it was much easier than The Watchmen. Part of it was that it was slipping back into a familiar (if equally dark and perilous environment) — high school. I may not have been a Goth or an budding Wiccan, but the Tamakis have tapped in to something most people felt in high school — different, baffled, and often alone. The cast that Skim wears from the page one until near the conclusion is a perfect metaphor for those difficult years — we’re fragile, reforming on the inside, protected by a hard shell we are always trying to refashion to signify what we would like to be within.
In Skim, the Toronto high school has been shaken by the shocking suicide of one of their classmates, and the widest range of reactions is represented from the phony public exhibitions of sorrow to the quietest grief. But this is only one of the many things Skim must grapple with. Skim’s parents are separated and bitter, she kisses a teacher — a female teacher at that, she is a perpetual outcast, and her only friend seems to be changing. This is perhaps what resonated most with me — how Tamaki depicts the shifting allegiances that of high school, that can be both exciting and painful. Skim’s narration is concise, often scathingly funny, and completely honest, making it a pleasure to read. (“Swiss Chalet = Social black hole.”) And even as a graphic novel beginner, I could tell that Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations added a whole new depth to the text, with the size and detail of the illustration well-suited to the tone of the moment, and using varied angles and layouts on the pages to maintain interest.
Though a short book, Skim cuts right to the heart of all so many of the trials and the tribulations of the high school years, making it a good gift for a teen, or just for an adult who may need a reminder that despite uncertainty, tragedy, and social upheaval, we soldier on. Towards the end of the novel, Skim expresses the heart of the teen years and of life perfectly: “When people in the movies talk about Tarot cards, they always talk about the Death card and say it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to die. It’s change. But almost all the cards = change.” And so, in the end, we just try to deal with what we’re dealt.