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?