Review: Skim, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

“Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been,” says Kimberly Keiko Cameron at one point in the comic Skim. And the book certainly reminds you of all the things about being sixteen that were garbage — if not Kim’s particular problems, then certainly the general experience of being sixteen. Called “Skim” as an unkind joke — she isn’t slender, white, and blonde like the popular girls — Kim is an outsider at her private high school. She’s not an outsider in a Carrie way, but more in the sense that high school makes so many people outsiders: that the people at your high school just aren’t your community. Kim is looking for her community.

The ex-boyfriend of a classmate, Katie Matthews, kills himself. Not long after, Katie herself falls off a roof (on accident?), breaking both her arms. The school goes into mourning overdrive, requiring counseling for all students, releasing white balloons in honor of the dead, discussing what makes them all sad and happy. Skim is disgusted with the show of mourning for someone that most of them never knew, and the false enthusiasm with which many of her classmates embrace the idea of being Suicide Preventers to their peers.

The painful thing about Skim is that Kim truly just needs to find her people. Like high-schoolers everywhere, she’s trying on identities: perhaps she’s a Wiccan, with a bedroom altar where she burns sage to calm herself down; perhaps she’s an arty cool girl lesbian like the teacher she develops a crush on. But none of these identities settles into her, because she cannot find her people.

Ugh, y’all. Not knowing who your people are is just the absolute worst. I am feeling glum now because I’m remembering past versions of myself when I was struggling to find my people (college more than high school) and how miserable that was. I’m glad I’m an adult. Props to the Tamaki cousins for portraying so vividly how much it sucks not to be an adult.

What period of your life was the worst? I was happy as a clam in middle and high school, and then much of my college career was terrible. You?

  • I’ve been stalking a copy of This One Summer by the Tamakis, and now I hope we have this one, too! Great review, Jenny!

    • Gin Jenny

      I really want to read This One Summer. It sounds amazing.

  • Have I mentioned how much I love your tags? Yeah, there should be some non-sucky alternative to high school. For me, junior high was really quite terrible and 9th grade was miserable awfulness, the worst, like death-sounds-pretty-good worst. After that things got steadily better and college was fantastic and wonderful (OK, also hard and often disastrous, but mostly good. Did you know there are people in the world who like to read books and learn things??). To this day stepping on the Berkeley campus makes me a special kind of happy.

    • Gin Jenny

      Aw, that’s really nice. I think I expected too much of college. I think I thought I would get to college and I would magically be different and extroverted or something, and that didn’t happen. Adulthood has been great though. Much better than either high school or college.

  • I believe I did fine all the way through college. Sure, there were days when I was sulky, annoyed, depressed, but overall they were fine. It was grad school that was a pain. Some of the people I met were downright backstabbers, in their quest to achieve something at school. Ugh, made me so mad I wanted to get out. I need to read this book.

    • Gin Jenny

      Really? That sucks! I am always stupidly shocked when people behave in petty, backstabbing ways. No matter how old I get I am never prepared for people to be that much jerks.

  • Just reading this post makes me uncomfortable in the awkward memories. 7th grade was terrible for me. I think it slowly got better every year until senior year when I finally felt comfortable in my not-fitting-in to the point that I actually found my people. I really want to read this, I just know I have to find the right time for it.

    • Gin Jenny

      Finding your people is SO IMPORTANT. 99% of the reason I enjoyed middle school (and high school to a lesser extent) was that I switched schools for fifth grade and found my people there, and they went to the same middle school as I did so I got to keep them. 🙂

  • Hmmm. I hated a great deal of adolescent life, but I was such an introvert that in many ways I observed rather than interacted. Only once was did I deal with a “mean girl,” and I tended to anger rather than passivity, so that was an incident that left a precedent to leave me alone. Luckily, I did find my people–a few friends who tolerated my quirks and introversion…and still do.

    Thanks for the review, Jenny. This is a topic that even the “popular” kids relate to because they often don’t think they have found their people either.

    • Gin Jenny

      You know, I had it in my head that I also observed rather than interacted, but now I sort of wonder. We had a high school reunion this past weekend, and I found myself being — not mean, exactly, but not very friendly. And it made me wonder if high school me was actively unfriendly, as opposed to not actively friendly (as I’ve always remembered).

  • Mine was the other way round. I hated high school and lost all sense of self-confidence. College and great friends was the making of me.

    • Gin Jenny

      College was almost the unmaking of me. I had a terrible time trying to make friends.

  • I think seventh grade and high school were the worst periods of my life. I’m currently adding more roles to my life, I’m trying to find my tribe IRL. Are you going to read the newest Tamaki book?

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes! I definitely am! As soon as my library gets it in.

      I don’t know what is wrong with me — no sooner did I become firmly established in my tribe in New York than I moved away from it. Restless feet, this girl! So now I have to start over finding my tribe here. I am sure I will do it. I just need time.

  • I am wondering whether my son would like this as he is having an issue with not finding his peoples right now. Maybe too close to the bone at the moment? I absolutely loathed school until I hit 16, then it got a bit better. And after that college was fine. I had my son a month into my PhD, so he was my only peoples, really, during that graduate part, which was problematic in slightly different ways. But really, that issue of managing – or not – to be in the right community is a killer, and ought to get talked about more than it does. You are so right to point to it as a deal breaker as far as quality of life goes.

    • Gin Jenny

      When I was having that issue for the first time as an adult, I read this book called Greensleeves, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, that spoke to the exact point, and it was just magic for me. But it’s out of print and rather difficult to find.

  • Oh man, right around 10th grade I lost my people–my two best friends and I grew apart in the space of the year–so the last two years of high school were really rough for me. The first few months of college were pretty lonely, but then I did start to find my people and those wound up being really formative, happy years for me. I got lucky. But I do remember early days of sitting in the library late on a Friday night, wondering just where the hell was this “college experience” everyone kept talking about…

  • aartichapati

    I don’t think I did college right, either. If I could do it again, I would go to a much smaller school and force myself to be more outgoing. But then I kind of had a second chance in business school, and did not really go out raving, either, so I suppose I am just more of an introvert. I too enjoyed high school more. Junior high was the worst for me, I think.

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