January 7, 2009

Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age edited by Ariel Schrag

This isn't one of my chosen twelve, but I thought I would include my review to this website anyway. Any graphic novel review is a good graphic novel review, right?

Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age
collects the unpleasant, embarrassing, and often humourous memories of a group of artists from the junior high years. Best friends, horse camp, betrayals, first kisses, and parachute pants all combine to breathe life into the childhood memories that so many of us try and repress. It’s true. We all have, to varying degrees, really effed up stories of pre-teenage years.

In the spirit of Stuck in the Middle, I give you a tale of my own from those tender years when I thought in all honesty I would grow up to be the bride of Leonardo DiCaprio (or one of the Backstreet Boys.)

I never went to middle school, but that didn't prevent me from going through similarly painful juvenile rights of passage. As a child my family moved around a fair bit. By the time I was in the seventh grade, I was in my sixth grade school. As everyone knows, moving not only uproots you, it also turns you into the newest pariah of any given school. I don’t blame my parents for changing my schools very often, but I certainly know that I will never do the same to my own children.

In the seventh grade, after moving once again in the summertime, I happened to be close enough to go back to my very first elementary school. Figuring that I would at least have somewhat of a connection to these group of children, I begged, whined and complained until I was enrolled in St. J’s once again.

Of course, nothing ever goes right, especially not when you’re the new kid. I was immediately ostracized by former friends, having made the grave mistake of leaving on a bad note the first time around—I stole a robin’s egg from my class and was caught. That was the very last thing my schoolmates remembered about me before I moved away, and so I was the pariah once again.

But, I was resourceful. I made friends quickly, girls who came to St. J’s long after the incident, and thus had no memory of my egg-stealing.

Fairly soon I was fully embraced by a group of about five or six girls. The number of us changed constantly since we were always not speaking to this girl or that girl, but for the most part we got on really well.

The problem with prepubescent girls is, they are like mercury. Moods and alliances could change in an instant, without provocation. We were like ticking time-bombs, ready to go off at one another.

This became a harsh reality for me one evening. Out of nowhere I received a phone call from R.—she accused me of making fun of her voice. Bewildered, having done no such thing, I denied it vehemently, but there was no use. I was already a Benedict Arnold. The news spread quickly—Olga’s a teaser. And that was that.

The next day at school I was ignored by all of my friends, left to stew in the mess that I had made for myself by allowing myself to become a target.

Heartbroken, I was forced to tell my mother the details (after being yelled at on the phone once again by a friend the following night). My mother was livid, and no doubt even more bewildered than I was, having received a hysterical and no-doubt confusing explanation from a distraught pre-teen.

The next day, she took me to school. Instead of dropping me off, she went down to the schoolyard with me, and—to my horror—bitched out the very girls who had ostracized me for the past thirty-six hours in broken English.

God bless my mother. She was my greatest champion, fighting that battle as best she could with half-finished sentences growled at the girls. At least they had the courtesy of looking shame-faced.

I was convinced this was the end of my social life completely. R. and the rest of the girls apologized half-heartedly in front of my mother. When she left, I was left alone once again.

But then something miraculous happened. At lunchtime, I was invited to sit with them. Once more I was welcomed back into the fold, and in the blink of an eye all was forgotten. There was no need to discuss what just happened—it was over! Why bring up the pain, when we could just move on with our lives and share a bag of Doritos and talk about our crushes again?

I’ve never been able to forget that event, even though the details have become fuzzy. I still don’t quite get what happened, but it serves as a reminder that middle school—your thirteenth year especially—is f**king scary. You couldn’t trust anyone, and you couldn’t be trusted. That best friend who just yesterday was braiding your hair over lunch, could be pointing the finger of blame on you today.

I’m glad I’m not thirteen anymore. This collection of comics from that unsettling age is a great journey down memory lane, but it makes you think about your own hellish recollections. The best part of the book is knowing that everyone goes through the same thing—no one gets out of middle school without having been scarred by it.

Rating: Four Stars

For more reviews (graphic novel and non!), check out my website.

1 comment:

Laza said...

What a great review! Thanks for sharing your story. I'm in my twenties now, and unfortunately girls don't always get past that phase of "who should we hate today". But, being older it is much easier to walk away from those people.

I'm torn about this book, because I'm like do I want to relive the horrors of being a pre-teen? I remember being teased incessantly because I hadn't had my first kiss yet. But who wants to kiss gross little boys anyway! :)