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posted June 15, 2007
Aimee Friedman, Christine Norrie
Scholastic Graphix, soft cover, 192 pages, January 2007, $8.99
9780439748674 (ISBN13), 0439748674 (ISBN10)
It's amazing that I can't find any of Christine Norrie's interior art for Breaking Up
on-line, because I would have to imagine it a selling point. Norrie offers up a lovely line here, and simplifies a lot of her staging without skimping on the background details in a way that makes the book a much more sumptuous read than it has any right to be. The best scenes feature only-in-comics visual-verbal tableaux to suggest a state of mind or a situation that prove highly amusing, and would be totally off-putting if not outright awful in a lesser artist's hands. It's a good-looking, slick book, much nicer looking in its way than anything I've seen from the Minx line or its previews, and in that sense I'm kind of surprised it sort of sank like a stone exposure-wise after its release.
That's not to say it doesn't have multiple shortcomings, or that on the whole it's not those limitations which define the work more than its better moments. I think it does and they do. The story of four juniors in high school that drift apart as romantic entanglements slip in to assume the self-definition function previously held by peer to peer relationships, Breaking Up
suffers from some of the usual shortcomings of teen literature. The characters, even the mousy ones, are flat-out gorgeous. The world which they inhabit feels sealed off and certain in a way that most kids' lives fail to match. Two of the four characters in the central social circle are reduced to cyphers. There's an over-reliance on the lead's ability to articulate every single thing that's going on around here in a way that's closer to someone writing a letter in a Ken Burns documentary than it is your usual confused teen. There's also a very conservative set of values, a kind of TV show ethics, that operates without a single event that might call into question its certainty about the way the world works. There are even a few clumsy scenes that betray the writer's nascent comics scripting skills or tax Norrie's ability to make those moments crackle the way they should: a scene in a restaurant where all four characters have to engage in a conversation with a few interruptions complicating the event is almost a disaster it's so roughly staged.
In the end, though, I don't know that many of these things matter to the intended audience. It's said that school-based soap operas tend to appeal to the group of kids one age lower than the people being depicted. Middle school kids may not have a stomach for a complicated ethical or moral display, and may not care if some characters are developed while other aren't, and might enjoy watching a group of wholly attractive city girls with hands-off parents that meet for iced lattes who dress well without being drawing a lot of attention to it and actually sip a bit of alcohol at parties. They'll certainly see attractive art in choosing to enjoy those things here.