Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Between the Lines: ‘Drama’ encapsulates queer youth experience

By Alexa Dumas

“It’s one thing to dream it…and another thing to actually build it.”

Middle school often helps shape adolescents and who they are. Drama club is the only activity that gets Callie through one of the most awkward times in a person’s life. 

After her mother took her to a production of the musical “Les Miserables,” Callie became obsessed with the art of the stage. This inspired her to join her school’s stage crew.

Raina Telgemeier’s 2012 graphic novel, “Drama,” has a double meaning as it focuses on the dramatic arts and the dramatic life of a middle school student. 

From the start of the graphic novel, Callie is overenthusiastic about her role in creating a set for the spring production of “Moon Over Mississippi.” 

She wants the stage to be extravagant and Broadway-worthy, but the stage crew budget won’t allow her actions to be followed through, to her dismay. She tries to push the boundaries of this limitation in order to create a beautiful set for the production of her dreams. 

Although Callie yearns to craft an amazing set, other obstacles in her life start to intervene. In the first few scenes of the graphic novel, Callie develops a crush on a boy named Greg and kisses him. 

However, when she meets twins named Justin and Jesse, her feelings start to become muddled. Justin loves musical theater as much as Callie, and Jesse is a mellow character who wants to be present but not perceived. 

As the graphic novel progresses, Callie starts dividing her time between stage crew and the twins. Callie and Greg also share some awkward interactions, as their kiss left feelings unsettled between them. Callie starts to develop feelings for Jesse, as their time together starts to increase throughout the novel. 

Although Callie has feelings for Greg, she learns that Justin feels the same. Justin comes out to Callie as gay. This scene can be empowering for young readers who decide to pick up “Drama.” The inclusion of characters like Justin can make readers in the LGBT community feel understood. 

Later in the graphic novel, the school drama production is about to be put on. However, during the middle of opening night, drama ensues and the lead actress runs off stage and won’t go on for the second act. In an act of desperation, Jesse saves the day by putting on the lead’s costume and pretends to be the heroine in order to save the show: this means that Jesse must kiss the lead actor, West. 

“Drama” is not just filled with vibrant colors and an enticing plot, Telgemeier’s graphic novel has faced censorship since its publication in 2012. From 2015 to 2020, “Drama” has been banned or challenged due to sexually explicit content, inclusion of LGBT characters, offensive viewpoints, being inappropriate for the intended age group, and going against family morals and values. 

Telgemeier’s graphic novel was also a part of the American Library Association’s top 10 banned books in 2014, 2016, and 2017. “Drama” is also a part of the ALA’s top 100 banned books of the past decade, where it is featured seventh on the list. 

Censoring graphic novels like “Drama” conveys to middle school students that their experiences in discovering their interests, sexuality, and other notable aspects of their identity are invalid. “Drama” should be celebrated for pushing the boundaries of what adolescents read during their middle school years, rather than barring it from a young reader. 

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