A Review of Skim by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki
Groundwood Books, 2008
by REBECCA, December 19, 2012
“Dear Diary, today Lisa said, ‘Everyone is unique.’ That is not unique!!”
Skim is a teenage Japanese-Canadian Wiccan goth in Catholic school in Toronto in 1993. Basically, I feel like all I need to do is write that one sentence and everyone will see why they want to read Skim. Skim is written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (cousins!). The writing is dry, it’s thoughtful, it’s lyrical, and it’s a little bit angry; the art is gorgeous: a variety of pen and ink images with sweeping black washes, detailed landscapes, smug expressions, and the kind of minimalism that only the truly self-assured narrative can pull off.
Skim’s only real friend is Lisa, but as Skim begins, Skim is feeling disillusioned with Lisa, and thinks everything she says is annoying. Around the same time, one of her classmates’ ex-boyfriends kills himself and her whole school falls into a kind of exaggerated mourning. Skim finds herself slowly falling in love with, Ms. Archer, her mysterious, flowy-skirted, tea-drinking rambling-house-living English teacher.
One of the things I like best about Skim is the way that the words and images are in tension with one another: the words will be bitter and aggressive while the image is calm and minimalist, or the words will be wry and sarcastic while the image is depressing and sad.
“I had a dream/ I put my hands/ inside my chest/ and held my heart/ to try to keep it still”
Also, I really love that none of the characters are pretty—they all have blank expressions and turned-up little noses and wonky eyebrows. It lends the book a level of realism and specificity.
Skim is a beautiful coming of age story: sexuality, race, body image, gender, spirituality, friendship—this is a book that has it all. I can’t overstate how beautifully paced, drawn, and written this book is. I highly, highly recommend it.