Review: ‘Awkward,’ by Svetlana Chmakova
Written and illustrated by Svetlana Chmakova
Hachette Books/Yen Press, 2015
All Ages, $11.00/$12.00
Awkward middle-schooler Penelope “Peppi” Torres has moved to Berrybrook Middle School, and already her first day has been a disaster when she is noticed by the mean kids. After tripping accidentally in the hallway, she’s assisted by Jaime, a shy introverted boy who is always teased at school. Together they’re both promptly teased by the bullies about being a couple. Embarrassed at her situation, she pushes the boy away, telling him to leave her alone. Weeks later, Peppi is still haunted by her cruel actions and wants to apologize for her behavior to Jaime, but she’s too shy to say anything.
Meanwhile Peppi makes few friends, but she enjoys spending her time with the Art Club at school. An avid fan of cartooning and comics, she at least has a few like-minded art enthusiasts to be creative with. The Art Club, supervised by the bubble-headed Mr. Ramirez, finds that in order to get a table for the school’s Annual School Club Fair, they need to contribute to the betterment of the school. The Art Club, led by the enthusiastic Maribella, decides to create a comic strip for the school newspaper called “Comic Punch,” which will help elevate their role in the school and guarantee their spot in the fair. As luck would have it, soon the Art Club finds they have serious competition for the spot at the School Club Fair: The Science Club, supervised by Miss Tobins, the electrifying and ambitious science teacher. Her Science Club students are highly intelligent—though they are always causing trouble, they get away with it because they win awards all the time and they make the school look good.
Peppi’s grades in science class are less than ideal, and at Miss Tobins’ request, Peppi gets a tutor for science—and it’s none other than Jaime, the boy whom she pushed on the first day of school. He’s not only a great science student, he’s also in the Science Club. Soon Peppi and Jaime—both hilariously awkward around others—manage to bond. Peppi finds out that she enjoys parts of science, and Jaime’s family knows a little about art as well. When the competition heats up for which club will win the table for the School Club Fair, will Peppi betray her friendship in order to give her Art Club a winning edge?
Svetlana Chmakova has been a fan favorite creator since her days at Tokyopop with Dramacon and also with Yen Press’s Nightschool. Though the style of Awkward is a slight departure from Chmakova’s traditional manga artwork, she maintains her manga influences to create a unique look that embraces a more cartoonish look of manga alongside more Americanized sensibilities, creating very fun and expressive characters. Her first middle school grade graphic novel from Yen Press is a funny and heart-felt look at middle school through the eyes of a realistic tween whom readers will love. Peppi is VERY awkward, and Chmakova does an excellent job at portraying how squirmish introverts can be at a time when passing notes, talking to the teacher, making new friends, and apologizing for things you’ve done can be a nerve-wracking situation. Even the different members of the large, diverse supporting cast of characters, including the Art Club, the Science Club, teacher supervisors, parents of some of the cast, and even the bullies, are fleshed out and given time to shine.
The book is in full color, but the coloring is more along the lines of a light pastel look for the book. The look is intentionally done so when full color pages appear for pages 58-61 the results are breathtaking to the reader and signal an emotional moment for the kids while they are on a field trip to their local museum. Also the book has an insightful afterword section showing the steps involved in the making of the graphic novel. Kids will be amazed to see the design sketches for the main characters, how Chmakova created the book from script, pencils, inking, and coloring. Plus, as a bonus, Chmakova even created an Easter Egg hunt as well, guaranteeing kids will scour through the book afterwards just to find them.
Yen Press has done a fantastic job with Awkward. In an age where Scholastic’ Graphix imprint and First Second books get plenty of well deserved accolades, Awkward is another shining example of kids comics done right. It’s got plenty of heart and soul and is sure to reach new fans who might just find the Awkward adventures of Peppi to feel like their own days at school.
Filed under: Reviews
About Mike Pawuk
Mike Pawuk has been a teen services public librarian for the Cuyahoga County Public Library for over 15 years. A lifelong fan of comic books and graphic novels, he was chair for the 2002 YALSA all-day preconference on graphic novels, served as a judge for the Will Eisner Awards in 2009, as well as helped to create the Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee for YALSA. He is the author of Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More, and co-author of the follow-up book Graphic Book II both published by Libraries Unlimited/ABC-CLIO Publishing.
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