Teen Whisperer: Raina Telgemeier

The author of graphic novels Smile, Sisters, Ghosts and Drama, Raina Telgemeier is a highly acclaimed and awarded author. It’s quite easy to see why when you read and see her work. Her stories are drawn from everyday life, that is often not magical nor fantastical. Neither are they set in unattainable schools of magic, that delightfully force the reader to stay in their imagination. Instead they are set in suburban homes and school corridors where a lot of students grow out of childhood into their teens.

Raina Telgemeier

Being a teen can be easy and tough at the same time. New emotions and experiences arrive at teenage doors, and teens do feel they can handle them. They face new situations quite fearlessly like an infant who is unafraid to walk off the edge of the table. Parents want to protect them and share their experiences of them being a teen. But to the teen the experience they are having is unique and new. If the teen eventually understands that being a teen is also about responsibility and consequences that accompany the new found freedom, it can be a period of meaningful change. Try telling that to a teen! Trying telling that to your own teen self!

What then if you presented your teen with stories by a remarkable teller of personal tales who shared her experiences and those around her as a teen? Someone who acknowledged the confusions and many emotions of being a teen. The awakening of new feelings, the need to not fully agree with their parents, the annoyances, the fears and trying to understand what they might want to pursue as adults. If ever there is an author you want as a guide as your teen metamorphises, it is Raina Telgemeier.

Smile

Telgemeier details her battle with braces, retainers ,headgear and much more in this epic graphic novel. Readers will feel the pain, the long struggle and frustration as Raina moves on the road to recovery after losing her two front teeth in a fall in sixth grade. She starts her many trips to the dentist which become a big part of her life. Meanwhile, school is not without many challenges. A new crush, being crushed upon, mean friends and a new school. Raina tries hard to stay in the group she is familiar with and worries about how she looks. As she enters high school, a new set of friends, new interests and responsibilities make Raina see life a lot differently.

Sisters

A road trip from California to Colorado lasting a week with two younger siblings and mum forms the basis of Raina Telgemeier’s next awesome book, Sisters. Raina captures the constant bickering and fighting that siblings usually have perfectly. Raina’s younger sister Amara, is closer to her age and the two can’t be with each other and can’t do without each other. Both of them are super different and Amara loves to get on Raina’s nerves. The four of them set off on the road trip, through storms and forests. In the novel Raina moves back and forth in time, detailing many interesting parts of her family’s history, which includes a period when her dad was unemployed, the many goldfish Amara and she buried and the sad case of their pet chameleon being eaten up by crickets!

We loved this book because it never sugarcoats the daily drama of family life. Economic pressures, family relations are all presented as is, with the ickiness and stickiness of family ties that bind us all. Raina also illustrates how we hold on to old familiar objects from our childhood, reluctant to let go even as adulthood approaches. We give this book a 5 star (out of a 5 scale rating).

Will, Raina and Amara (in pink, far right) with their parents

Ghosts

Cat and her very sick sister Maya who suffers from cystic fibrosis move to Northern California with their family. The salty, sea air is prescribed for Maya but Cat has to leave her friends behind and she is not too happy about it. What looks like just another small town proves to have some very interesting other-worldly inhabitants. Even world-weary Cat is jump-started! The town celebrates the day of the dead and while Cat is apprehensive initially, once she joins in she experiences the ride of a lifetime. Cat also finds a new friend, Carlos.

This beautiful graphic novel is a colourful peep into Mexican culture and customs. The book is never soppy or sentimental, considering little Maya and her family have to contend with the possibility that she might die young. The love between Cat and Maya is deep, and yet like regular sisters they quibble over small things. The story of a family that is getting on with life with a very sick child is shown truthfully and eloquently.

Cat and Maya take a stroll in the town they have just shifted into

Drama

This book is super transformative. While fully acknowledging all the social happenings that go on at school, Raina traces the inward journey of Callie. The school play is to be put up. Callie and her friends Matt and Lizzie are part of the stage team. Callie loves Greg, who loves Bonnie. Complicated, right? But there are things to be done, even as Callie yearns for Greg. A canon has to go off on stage. While Callie wrangles with this problem she befriends brothers Jesse and Justin. She finds a kindred heart in Jesse. Callie and her team throw themselves into their different areas of work and Callie works on the canon problem. Soon, however, relationship problems ensue. Will Callie find the true love of her life? Psst..she does it’s a what not a who.

Drama can be read a zillion times and you will want to disappear into its pages again because it has such an interesting plot line and we can all relate to Callie. Despite being confused and sometimes exhausted with her teen feelings Callie finds her lifelong calling. This superb book is simply unmissable.

The running theme through all of Raina Telgemeier’s books is that each teen is different and have different stories. The trials of growing up are many; being a teen can be a very exciting time but one that must be spent thinking and introspecting about life events rather than simply going through them. Teen life can be tough and very often teens can feel they are misunderstood and not taken seriously. For them, their emotions are very real. The good news she seems to say is to keep at things you are interested in as a teen, let the feelings come and go and above all find strength and beauty within. Great advice for teen girls and boys. Parents too will enjoy these graphic novels and be educated and better understand the ups and downs that teen’s face.

Empower your teen and introduce them to Raina Telgemeier’s books. If you have a teen boy who complains the lead character is a girl, do gently remind them that teen girls have been reading great stories with boys at the heart of them. Happy reading.

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