The BackShop Journal

A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

Awkward! - an Upbeat Story about Teenage Passions and Tribulations

Awkward! is a manga-style graphic novel  about a middle school girl named Penelope Torres. On her first day at a new school, she slips in the crowded corridor, and is helped by a science geek named Jaime. When children around them start teasing them, the humiliated and embarrassed Penelope pushes Jaime and runs away. Beset by pangs of conscience, she decides to apologise to the boy, but cannot gather the courage. She is placed in a really awkward situation when she finds out that her science tutor assigned by a young, confident and super ambitious female science teacher is Jaime. For most of the book, she is trying to resolve the conflict between her desire to remain cool in front of the peers and her growing sympathy for the new male friend.

In the parallel but closely intertwined story, Penelope is depicted in the setting of the only place where she feels comfortable and inspired: the school art club. Across from the Art Club resides the group's chief opponent and rival, the Science Club. Jaime, a highly gifted science student, is a member of the Science Club. The conflict between the two clubs takes both of them spiraling downward to a place where only drastic measures are needed in order to climb out.

Apart from engrossing storytelling, Svetlana Chmakova, the author of the comic strip, shows great talent for character portrayal and facial expressions. In 224 pages, she manages to present at least a dozen distinct and memorable middle school students and teachers everyone can remember from their own school. Driven by a series of circumstantial events, the emotional, independent and often panicky Penelope spontaneously grows into a leader and decision-maker during the course of the story, essentially rendering Awkward! into a very successful Bildungsroman.

Svetlana Chmakova (Шмакова) (b. 1979) is a Russian-born Canadian comic artist, best known for Dramacon, an original three-volume English-language manga published in North America. Her other work include Nightschool and Adventures of CG. Awkward! was named one of School Library Journal's Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2015. It is also found on the YALSA list of the 2016 Great Graphic Novels for Teens.

Svetozar Postic

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