Despite the fact that I had heard good things about Smile by Raina Telgemeier it took me a number of years to actually get around to reading it, and of course once I did I rather liked it! And then I just repeated the process by taking quite a while to track down Drama, even though I had heard good things about it and even heard Telgemeier speak about it at Small Press Expo this past fall. I guess my only excuse is that when you only get your books from the library you don't develop the habit of checking out their catalog immediately to find new books, they just aren't designed very well to keep people up to date with what new-ish things they have.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Callie might not have the skill set to act and sing in her favorite plays but she has just as much fun working on the tech crew at her middle school to make up for it. And so she and her friends go through the ups-and-downs of producing a play, figuring out relationships, and just trying to make it work!
If I remember correctly, when I was at SPX Telgemeier said that Drama had originally been written with high school characters and then aged down to middle schoolers since that's where her fanbase lies (trust me, after a few hours of volunteering I can say she's 100% right about that) and I could really tell. Part of this is that I did a bit of tech crew when I was in high school and was a bit surprised at how much more freedom the kids here had than we ever did, we had a full team of parents helping us out to produce this plays. I can see why she chose not to include any parents (and also why to keep the crew much smaller than it actually would have been), for simplicity's sake and that is a great point and a completely valid reason from a storytelling stand-point. However, it did drag me out of an otherwise enjoyable story far too often and made the story feel a bit "off" to me.
There was one other element of the story near the end that pulled me out of it and it's a bit spoilerly. To word it carefully, it seems that the entire cast is either gay or straight and when one character might be bisexual it's half-waved off and that bothered me. Part of it was how a few of the character's sexualities were revealed, while foreshadowed a bit it made them come off as both a bit of jerks and a "oh if a character does X then they must be Y, they can't be Z and do X!", ie felt like it was following stereotypes a bit too much for my taste. No I'm not gay or straight myself, not even bi, and had no idea about any of this when I was in middle school* so while it was nice to see characters actually exploring all of this as 13/14 year olds I did feel like it unintentionally carried a rather weird message along with it.
I did like "the message" that Callie has crushes on multiple guys throughout the series, and some of them simultaneously, and that this is perfectly okay. There weren't any love triangles (well, ones she was involved in anyway) and a lot of times in young adult books I read there's still this undercurrent of "oh no, you can't like two guys at once!" when a love triangle is present and I thought it was both refreshing and more realistic for that mindset to just not be here. Sure Callie feels a bit conflicted at times, especially since her feelings grow and change (Drama is a very apt title here), but there's no shame involved.
In the end my feelings on the book are a bit mixed, while there were elements that left a sour taste in my mouth they were all quite subjective details and I would have no problem at all recommending this comic to anyone whose over the age of 11 or so. But yet I feel like I enjoyed Smile more and just don't see myself revisiting this work anytime soon, no matter how much I like the art and coloring, so instead I'll just look forward to whatever Telgemeier's next work is!
*in my defense, a combination of Catholic school and just plain not being interested in anyone doesn't exactly make it easy to figure it out.