Author: Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Release Date: July 2015
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Graphic Novel, MG
Cardinal rule #1 for surviving school: Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.
Cardinal rule #2 for surviving school: Seek out groups with similar interests and join them.
On her first day at her new school, Penelope–Peppi–Torres reminds herself of these basics. But when she trips into a quiet boy in the hall, Jaime Thompson, she’s already broken the first rule, and the mean kids start calling her the “nerder girlfriend.” How does she handle this crisis? By shoving poor Jaime and running away!
Falling back on rule two and surrounding herself with new friends in the art club, Peppi still can’t help feeling ashamed about the way she treated Jaime. Things are already awkward enough between the two, but to make matters worse, he’s a member of her own club’s archrivals–the science club! And when the two clubs go to war, Peppi realizes that sometimes you have to break the rules to survive middle school!
Peppi is the new girl at Berrybrook Middle School. On her first day she collides with “nerd” Jamie in front of the school bullies. Instead of helping him up like she is inclined to do, she is rude to him. It’s something she regrets and agonizes over for weeks, trying to find the right time and the right way to apologize to Jamie, who has entirely forgotten the incident.
As the year progresses, Peppi finds the art club is where she belongs, which meets directly across the hall from the science club. The two clubs are competitive rivals after the principal announces the art club will not have a booth at the upcoming fair because they are not contributing members of the school community. In order to gain back their rights to the fair, the two clubs escalate their antics in hopes of gaining school-wide attention. Only problem is, they don’t particularly care if it’s good or bad attention, so both clubs get suspended.
Jamie is a hardworking member of the science club, but he and Peppi realize they must work together to find a solution for their respective clubs by putting their rivalry aside and working together.
Peppi – the main character, of Hispanic origin
Jaime – Peppi’s nerdy science crush
Art Kids – Tessa, Nina, Tyrone, Maribella, Jenson, Felicity, Nathaniel, Mr. Ramirez
Science – Derek, Jack, Leticia, Sam, Miss Tobins
Newspaper – Jenny, Akilah
“I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes…and aged a thousand years…Wait. That math doesn’t add up.”
The Highs and Lows
- Diversity. Chmakova has done an excellent job of showcasing and diversifying her cast of characters. It is sometimes hard to tell characters apart in comics, but she has done a fabulous job of creating a unique identity for each character. The entire range of characters are representative of various ethnicities, genders, abilities, and sizes. In a world where the number on the scale is more important than the size of your heart, I applaud Chmakova for her forwardness and realistic approach to character creation. There are successful characters, a disabled character (who is also very successful), a Muslim student, multi-ethnic families, and dysfunctional families.
- The Rivalry. The rivalry fuels the plot and the things each side does had me laughing and frowning. I knew where things were headed, and the intensity with which they fought for their stake was exciting to see. There is even a pair of sisters straddling the divide, one belonging to each club. Such passionate young students!
- The Theme. This book is all about friendships and working together. It was refreshing that Peppi and Jamie have a relationship that is not approaching romantic, which would have been easy to do. Instead, they are just good friends brought together by their mutual likes and interests.
- Art v. Science. The other interesting message Chmakova puts out there is it isn’t about art vs. science. You don’t have to choose one over the other. There can be both. It presents a positive message and merit to both art and science.
- The Awkardness. The books is aptly titled, for all of the characters display some type of awkardness. The two most awkward characters are the clumsy art teacher and the kid obsessed with sun spots who is accepted by the art club. This graphic novel approaches the real worries of middle and high school students in a non-threatening or lecturing way. Fears of being the new kid, fitting in, finding a group you identify with, making friends, feeling regret about your actions, crushes, the demands of academics, and bullying are all featured in Awkward.
- Design Gallery. In the back of the book the author created a little space for a design gallery, that includes a summary of her creative process for the book, a closer look at each character, and a scavenger hunt that promotes reading the book again!
I love the realistic aspects of the book and that it hosts so many life lessons for young students trying to find their place in the world, not to mention the incredible cast of characters.
Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip?
I think this one is a buy!
Svetlana Chmakova (Russian: Светлана Шмакова) (born 1979 in Russia) is a comic creator. She is best known for Dramacon, an original English-language manga spanning three volumes and published in North America by Tokyopop. Her other work includes the 2-page The Adventures of CG for CosmoGIRL! magazine and the webcomic Chasing Rainbows for Girlamatic. Though born in Russia, she immigrated to Canada, where she graduated from the Sheridan College Classical Animation program, in 2002. She then began to publish her manga on the Internet, where her works were found by CosmoGirl! magazine.