Skim by Mariko Tamaki

Who knew that I would come across something that would make me feel nostalgia for the mid-2000s? Skim is a compelling coming-of-age story that is bound to make you feel nostalgic for the mid-2000s (even if you, like me, didn’t strictly ‘come of age’ in that time). Skim captures the angst, confusion, heartache, and loneliness experienced by its titular character with empathy and insight. Kimberly Keiko Cameron, who goes by the nickname of ‘Skim’, is an aspiring Wiccan goth enrolled at a private girls school. She has a best friend who is very much vocal about her dislike and contempt for the ‘popular’ girls or anything she deems mainstream. When Katie Matthews, one of said popular girls, is dumped by her boyfriend who then goes on to commit suicide, well, the school is thrown into chaos. Some students are very much into performing their grief, exaggerating their connection to the boy and the impact that his death has had on them. Others cluster around Katie, their attempts at comforting her bordering on the oppressive. The staff is made newly aware of the importance of their students’ mental health and identify Skim, a quiet Goth, as someone to keep their eye on. Skim herself sinks further into depression as her only friend becomes increasingly toxic. When Skim develops an infatuation with one of her teachers, well, things get even more complicated for her.
I liked how this graphic novel avoids the usual teen coming-of-age tropes. Skim may be a bit of an outsider but, as we see, the social hierarchies within her school aren’t wholly inflexible (not all of the popular girls hate her or are portrayed as boy-crazed & vapid). Additionally, just because you aren’t part of the popular clique, does not mean you are necessarily a nice person (take Skim’s BFF for example). At times you can grow apart from a friend without any real ‘reason’. Much of the story reads like a slice-of-live dealing with suicide, depression, alternative culture, sexuality, and first love. The narrative never felt moralistic or contrived and I loved the pacing of the story. Skim was a likeable and relatable character who is dealing with a lot of different emotions and can’t quite make sense of what she wants or who she wants to be.
In addition to loving Mariko Tamaki’s storytelling, I adored Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations. Her style has a sketchy edge to it that goes hand in hand with Mariko’s narrative.

I loved how at the ending two characters come together and it is left open to interpretation whether their relationship is platonic or romantic. I did wish for a slightly longer conclusion, but then again, that just may be because I did not want to leave Skim and her world behind. The teacher-student relationship could also have been addressed a bit more. Still, these are minor things and I would happily read this graphic novel again & again.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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In the Clear Moonlit Dusk by Mika Yamamori

This mangaka’s style was chef’s kiss. Alas, the story reads like a very generic high-school shoujo. うるわしの宵の月, translated as In the Clear Moonlit Dusk follows Yoi Takiguchi, a high school girl whose princely appearance has earned her the nickname of ‘Prince’. Often mistaken as a boy, Yoi is not used to being seen as a ‘girl’. This premise did ring a bell as I remember reading a manga years ago in which the heroine had a masculine appearance and the hero a feminine one. There it kind of worked as the two leads (as far as i can remember) were comfortable quite comfortable with the way the looked. Here, sadly, Yoi isn’t keen on being seen as a ‘prince’ as seems to be indifferent to her female classmates’ attention (they routinely confess their feelings to her or simply stare at her in awe). Then she meets Ichimura, who is also nicknamed ‘Prince’ (i guess they couldn’t come up with something more creative?), and he seems to see her as a girl. Shocking. The guy calls her cute and Yoi becomes all flustered in a “who me?” way.

I found the both leads quite bland. I wish Yoi hadn’t been so easily taken by Ichimura. That the other girls become jealous of Yoi does not bode well as it promises a classic girl-on-girl hate side-plot that we could well do without. The main male lead is boring and so far his personality revolves around his beautiful appearance and his ‘ability’ to see Yoi as a girl.
The art is lovely, the story & characters mediocre. Maybe those who haven’t read many shoujo manga will be able to enjoy this more.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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