Awkward, adj.1. Embarrassing or inconvenient; caused by lack of social grace: Penelope “Peppi” Torres, is starting middle school in a new town and automatically stumbles into an awkward moment in public. Adorable, adj. 1. Very attractive or delightful; charming: this graphic novel is adorable!
On the first day of her new school, Peppi Torres trips and falls in the middle of a busy hallway, spilling her school supplies all over the floor. A bespectacled boy with a kind face stops to help her, but this causes Peppi to inadvertently break her own first rule for surviving school: avoid the attention of bullies. No sooner does the boy stop to help than Peppi is being called the “Nerder Girlfriend” by the resident meanies. The so called “Nerder” in question is actually named Jaime, and the reaction of the audience to their first exchange causes Peppi to push Jaime away in order to escape further embarrassment.
Weeks after the incident, Peppi still feels terrible about how she treated Jaime, but cannot work up the courage to apologize to him. Other than being plagued with guilt every time she sees Jaime, Peppi has made a few friends in her new school by joining the art club. While her new friends encourage Peppi to talk to Jaime, things become complicated when the art club goes to war with the science club, competing for a table at the school fair. Of course, as Peppi’s luck would have it, Jaime is in the science club.
This sweet slice of middle school life is presented by Svetlana Chmakova, who is previously known for her OEL (Original English Language) manga, Dramacon, which had been published by Tokyopop. With colorful panels filled with a likable cast of characters, Chmakova’s manga style influence is apparent, though Awkward‘s artwork has its own flair which transcends that of her previous titles. Several manga-like facial expressions are used, such as when an exaggerated waterfall of tears stream from Peppi’s eyes, however the aforementioned eyes are much smaller and less shoujo character-like, as they had been in Dramacon. It is clear that Chmakova has remained true to her love of manga, all the while making the style of this book her own.
Even better, the characters are effortlessly diverse! Among the multiracial cast of likable characters are a girl who wears a hijab, a woman in a wheelchair, and representation of several body types. The teacher who mentors the science club is a woman of color who rides a motorcycle, while the teacher in charge of the art club is a short round man.
The story touches lightly on a few serious subjects. Maribella, one of Peppi’s competitive classmates, has a father who pushes her too hard and calls Maribella’s mother a derogatory term that begins with the letter “B”. The word itself is alluded to by being written as, “BXXXX”, in the panel itself.
An apology from Peppi in the form of a comic leads to her budding friendship with Jaime, which ultimately aims to end the feud between their clubs. Sweet, funny, and more than appropriate for its middle grade audience, Awkward will find a welcome audience among fans of Raina Telgemeier, who will equally await more from Svetlana Chmakova.
by Svetlana Chmakova
Yen Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)