Monday, January 19, 2009

Review of Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston

As a Very Quiet high school student, I just wanted to be invisible. Well, even more invisible than I already was. Except maybe to the couple of boys I had crushes on. It wasn’t until college that I became enamored of the long-defunct world of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed and dreamed of tramping around seedy NYC streets smoking too many cigarettes. The vision ended there, but it had enough aesthetic appeal to cause me to keep my hair very short and very black for quite some time. Fishnets, boots, and thrift-store clothing also figured prominently. I wanted to show all my Angst and Weirdness on the outside.

Emiko, a half-Japanese, half-white Toronto high school student, takes her dreams of Freakdom one step further when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to The Factory every Friday, where Freaks reign supreme and creative souls perform art on stage (slithering through toilet seats while smeared in grape jelly, using sock puppets to dramatize a difficult mother/daughter relationship, and so on).

One artist named Poppy embodies the free, creative, brave spirit that Emiko longs to possess. Emiko does finally work up the courage to perform at The Factory, but her performance is cribbed from the very personal diary of the woman for whom she babysits. Despite this rocky start and the rather abrupt demise of The Factory, Emiko has managed to jumpstart her own creativity – and finds out you don’t need to be a Freak to be an artist.

Emiko’s attraction to these odd free spirits will be perfectly understandable to many readers, and her awkwardness and shyness are made clear by both her mumbled responses and her body-language – writer Tamaki and illustrator Rolston seem to be absolutely on the same page, making the reading of this graphic novel a smooth experience. There isn’t much depth to the story or much innovation in the illustrations; compared to the truly awesome Skim, this is pleasant but not ground-breaking. What is wonderful about it (and about all Ms. Tamaki's work) is its portrayal of a person with "normal" outsides but seething, edgy insides - freakiness isn't always visible.

Highly recommended for grades 8 and up – especially those Freak-wannabes out there.

Some of whom grew up and became librarians, but remain full-fledged geeky Freaks on the inside.

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