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2 for 1: Harmonic Feedback and Skim Explore Teen Alienation and Friendship

June 7, 2010

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
published by Henry Holt and Co. May 25, 2010
borrowed from
Around the World Tours

Sixteen-year-old Drea is bright and creative; her passions are music and sound design. However her life is lonely. She’s the only child of a single mom who lives a nomadic existence. According the phalanx of professionals her mother has hired, Drea has mild Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD, and she rarely makes friends.

Drea’s mom is out of work, so they move in with her stern, demanding grandmother. Drea doesn’t expect to find a niche in her new high school, especially if people find out how different she is. But soon after moving in, she meets Naomi, a warm and outgoing but troubled girl who accepts Drea as she is. She also meets Justin, a kind, attractive boy who is hiding secrets of his own. Drea has difficulty “reading” people, and she is used to being an outsider and being ridiculed by peers. When Justin first reaches out to her, she assumes he’s making fun of her, and it takes a while for a tentative friendship to blossom between them.

Justin is a musician, Drea is a sound design maven, and Naomi has a beautiful voice, so they form a  band together. Soon Drea is immersed in new experiences, including a budding romance with Justin and trying to save Naomi from her addiction to drugs and abusive relationships.

This is a wonderful coming of age story about loneliness, friendship, love, exploring your gifts and expanding the boundaries of your life. I like the fact that this character has mild Asperger’s, but this wasn’t the focus of the story. Although this novel probes serious issues, including life on the autism spectrum, strained family relations, and teenage drug abuse, it didn’t feel like an “issues” book. It’s a story about beginning to fully experience life, the barriers between people, and the connections that bring them together. And the protagonists’ passion for music adds another rich dimension to the novel. I think it will be a big hit with lovers of YA literature.


Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
Groundwood Books, February 28, 2008

recommended by Aarti at Booklust

Kimberly Keiko Cameron, aka Skim, is a Canadian student at a Catholic high school who divides her time between her divorced parents. With her best friend Lisa, she is delving into becoming a Wiccan, and she has a penchant for tarot cards. A popular classmate, Katie Matthews, is devastated when she is dumped by her boyfriend, John Reddear. Skim and Lisa put Katie down, seeing her as an “empty vessel waiting to be filled.”  Then John kills himself, and rumors abound that he did it because he was a closet homosexual.

The whole school is shaken by John’s death. Some of the popular girls at school develop a Celebrate Life club, and faculty members are coached on suicide prevention. Because of her image as a “Goth,” Skim is approached by teachers who worry she’s at risk for suicide. This makes her more frustrated and isolated. And when she falls in love with a female teacher, Skim’s life gets even more difficult.

Skim and Lisa are edgy characters, and at times they’re difficult to like. They ridicule fellow students and make jokes about depression and suicide. On the other hand, they’re individualists who sniff out hypocrisy and and don’t suffer fools gladly. I connected to Skim throughout the story, because she felt incredibly real. She was a moody, angst-ridden teenager, bright and creative but riddled with depression and confusion. Her friendship with Lisa was not the perfect, loving teenage girl bond I often see portrayed in books and movies. It is an adolescent friendship as I remember it, sometimes warm, sometimes distant, and sometimes poisonous, ruled by feelings that seem to fluctuate from day to day. And it was interesting to watch Skim drift away from Lisa, who seemed to be getting too dark and edgy for her, and kindle a friendship with an unlikely person.

This was my first graphic novel, and while I didn’t fall in love with it, the story definitely held my interest. I was fascinated by how richly Skim’s character was developed, using few words, and by how many experiences and ideas it explored. I’d never realized how much depth this medium could have. If anyone has suggestions for similar YA graphic novels, I’d love to have a look.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2010 3:16 am

    I love it when main characters have “issues” but the book isn’t about those “issues”. It normalizes and draws attention to the (quite obvious) fact that people who are ‘different’ still live and encounter happiness and troubles just as everyone else does. I had a student in a wheelchair once who said she’d love to read a book or watch a television program where a main character was in a wheelchair and no one ever mentioned it. That’s always stuck in my head.

    • June 7, 2010 12:18 pm

      Trisha, I agree wholeheartedly with your student. After all a disability is only a small part of who a person is. So why does it have to be the focus of the story?

  2. June 7, 2010 1:13 pm

    Harmonic Feedback sounds magical. I have heard nothing but great things about it.

  3. June 8, 2010 11:45 am

    Hi Stephanie,

    This book sounds awesome – and that it’s a graphic novel makes it even more enticing. The combination of being different, delving into Wicca and trying to represent contemporary high school life sound like the makings of a great read.

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