In the fall of 1981 I was a student at…
I approached Ariel Schrag’s Awkward and Definition with a little bit of trepidation. Earlier this year I made the proclamation that I was going to read one graphic novel a week, and since I’m an equally-opportunity reader I went in search of female authors. Since, I’ve already read Persepolis and Fun Home I had to do a little digging. It seems that whenever people mention female graphic novelists, those are the two that get mentioned the most.
In my research I stumbled upon Ariel Schrag’s high school chronicles, the first of which is Awkward and Definition which are sort of a visual journal of Schrag’s freshman and sophomore years in high school. I approached the first book with a bit of trepidation. I’ve read Jeffrey Brown’s autobiographical stuff and found it kind of a drag. I’m happy to report Schrag’s book is not draggy at all. In fact, it’s a lot of fun and kind of charming in the way winsome teenage girls can be when you least expect it.
The first half of the book is about Schrag’s freshman year at Berkeley High School in California. Schrag’s a Juliette Lewis-obsessed, L7 fan (hello, 90s) trying to find her way through the minefield of boys and friends and high school. It’s typical teenage fare, but the writing is so genuine and honest that you can’t help but be won over. I know, I know it’s sounds like it would be really annoying and even boring, but it’s not at all. Mostly because Schrag is so funny and her observations are so keen. At one point she refers to putting on makeup as putting her Gwen as in Stefani (L7 is usurped by No Doubt in the second half of the book). Plus, for those of us who really came of age in the 90s it feels a little like looking back on our own childhood.
At first I was a little disappointed in the art. It felt really comic-strip-y and amateurish. By the time I got to the tenth grade portion of the book (Definition) it made sense. Schrag actually wrote Awkward while in the ninth grade. In one chapter during her sophomore year she goes to a comic convention to sell the book. It’s so awesome.
This is the kind of graphic novel I want to give to every teenage girl that I know. I think Schrag’s memoir will be both a comfort (look, look everyone goes through this) and an inspiration (even teenage girls can do whatever they put their mind to).