Comic Books | Review

Review: 'Drama' is a star turn; 'Amulet' drags

It’s only September, but I’m going to call Raina Telgemeier’s “Drama” from Scholastic the best stand-alone all-ages book of the year.

I can’t remember the last time I put a book down and felt so thoroughly satisfied. But I’ve read a lot of great all-ages stuff this year, so I’m not quite ready to declare it the most wonderful thing I’ve picked up in 2012. It would definitely go in my top 3 overall.

And as a self-contained story, it’s just fantastic.

It’s about a middle-school girl named Callie who loves theater. She’s not much of an onstage person, so she has found her home working backstage designing and constructing sets. She likes one boy, but he’s wrapped up in a bunch of girlfriend drama, and then she meets another who seems a more likely candidate.

But the story wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it were that easy.

Now, I have to admit, my opinion may be colored by the fact that I’ve been doing plays since elementary school and became a true theater geek in high school. There were so many moments I could relate to personally, the book almost felt like it was written just for me.

But isn’t that what you want in a book — that strong connection that makes it special?

Even if you’re not a theater geek, there’s plenty to love about “Drama,” though. As with “Smile,” Telgemeier nails all the awkward parts of being a young teenager, in love or otherwise. There are notes passed in class and anguished moments before sending a text that may lead to rejection. But she also shows the strength that makes kids do some outstanding things. I totally did not see the climax turning out the way it did and enjoyed it all the more.

And I totally give props to Telgemeier for including a gay character who suffers no angst. He’s not completely out, but he’s accepted by the ones who know. It’s not a big deal at all. And having lots of experience in the theater, it wouldn’t be a drama club if there wasn’t at least one gay kid.

The story does feel more like it’s set in high school than junior high, but they say kids grow up faster these days.

Telgemeier is fine on the technical aspects, too. The art isn’t simple, but it’s not cluttered, either. And some of the facial expressions are priceless. The colors by Gurihiru are spot-on.

Also new from Scholastic is Kazu Kibuishi’s “Amulet: Prince of the Elves,” the fifth book in the series. It was supposed to be the final, but I guess Kibuishi wasn’t ready to wrap it up.

The series, about a girl who inherits a magic stone and discovers she’s the key to saving another world, started with such promise. The characters were so exciting, and the setting is gorgeous. Kibuishi’s artwork is still stunning.

But the series is dragging. Very little actually happens in this volume, which is building up to the final big fight. It’s mostly background and flashbacks about two characters that feel like Kibuishi is just emptying his notebook here. Like he did all this work to inform his writing and just couldn’t let it go. Some does inform the narrative, but that could have been woven into a tighter ending.

It’s a pity, because it really slows down the narrative. And now we have to wait another year (if it follows the pattern) to see how things end — maybe. I still look forward to it, but not with the same anticipation I did a few books ago.

Eric Henrickson is a Detroit News copy editor who has also been writing about comic books, video games and anime for The News for more than 10 years. His favorite bit of geek cred so far: appearing in an online "Star Trek" fan series.