Callie, the book's spunky protagonist, is thrilled when Mr. Madera announces the selection for the school's spring musical: Moon Over Mississippi, a musical Callie l-o-v-e-s. When the the student stage crew is assembled with their director/supervisor, duties are quickly divvied up: Callie volunteers to be in charge of set design, while her friend Liz becomes the costume designer. Loren's set to be the stage manager; Delfina signs up for makeup; Matt will hit the lights; Mirko's doing sound; Sanjay will help with carpentry.
And just like that, the next fourteen weeks fly by, packed with breakups, shakeups, schoolwork, and rehearsals. Before they know it, the curtain's rising on opening night. Soon afterwards, the drama continues at a school dance.
Laid out in the customary graphic novel fashion, with clear panels and gorgeous colors by Gurihiru, the book also pulls in the feel of a play, with an overture that sets the scene, then act breaks - even an entr'acte! - all leading to The End. For those of you who like to read the scene breakdown in the program before the house lights dim, here you go: In Act I, we meet Callie's initial crush and the stage crew. Act II introduces us to Jesse and Justin, twin brothers who quickly befriend Callie. During the auditions in Act III, Justin shines, and Jesse joins the stage crew. Rehearsals continue in Act IV, tech in Act V, performances in Act VI, and the school dance in Act VII. The final act wraps up the storylines and the school year.
Callie gets an A+ for being such an awesome lead character. She speaks her mind a lot of the time, but still gets tongue-tied (or thumb-tied, when texting or sending IMs) sometimes. She's loyal to her buddies and extremely devoted to the show. She really wants her set to pop - truly! With the show set in the time of the Civil War, she's determined to figure out a way to make functioning, confetti-spewing cannons. Subtle lessons about responsibility are taught within these pages, as some students bite off more than they can chew while others really pay attention to detail and do their research. For example, Callie and Liz watch films like Gone With the Wind to get ideas for their designs, and Callie has many a sleepless night over the creation of her cannons...and what's going on with her friends.
The cast is extremely diverse, not only in heritage and appearance but also in personality and personal style and interests. From the moment the twins are introduced, you can hear Justin's bubbly voice and Jesse's slightly quieter one. There's something about these brothers that makes you want to hug them. Energetic Justin practically jumps off the page, squeeing (yes, he has a speech bubble which says, "Squee!") and telling Callie, "You are officially my new favorite person." (He also approves of her name: "Callie! What a happy-sounding name, very sunshiny.") By contrast, Callie's best friend Liz is very calm, and Jesse, who becomes Callie's new crush, is somewhere in-between.
The crushes keep crushing; Callie's not the only one confused about who she likes, and who likes her. In a wonderful scene, one of the teens confides in another, revealing that a character is gay. Someone confides in someone else, and it's simply the truth, no shame, no heaviness to it. If only all books (and films, and TV shows) handled all characters' lives in such a way, to be aware of what could be called sensitive subject matter but not shying away from it, and letting it be simply the truth rather than A Big Deal (or a ratings gimmick), then more readers/viewers would see themselves in those characters and thus respond more strongly and positively to the stories being told.
All of the characters who are working on Moon Over Mississippi have found a sanctuary in their school's theatre. Whether they are working on props, practicing lines, setting up lights, looking through old costumes, or waiting in the wings, they are safe - and excited, and nervous, and anxious.
This book also includes not one but two memorable trips to bookstores. Look at the reactions Callie has on pages 128-130: absolutely priceless, and completely felt by ANYONE who has ever entered a building, a museum, a store, any place that's all about something they love more than anything.
When the last curtain dropped, and I found I had reached the end of the book, I wanted to re-read the entire thing right away. I would have, too, if I hadn't had to go on stage. This is a true story. Just ask Raina: She received photographic evidence of me reading this book backstage!
You might be thinking, "Oh, she loved this book just because she loves the theatre." No, I loved this book because it's awesome. I loved this book because Raina Telgemeier's artwork is wonderful, and because she's a masterful storyteller, both in words and pictures. I loved the characters, the colors, the details, the dialogue. I wish my middle school productions had been this cool, and I wish I had friends like Callie's, and a friend like Callie. I can only hope that my work as an actress and as a writer inspires others like Raina's has inspired her fellow artists and readers.
If you loved Telgemeier's previous graphic novels, including Smile and the illustrated versions of The Baby-Sitters Club, then you're going to love this book.
Drama is available in both softcover AND hardcover, published by Scholastic Graphix.
Related Posts and Outside Links
Read my interview with Raina Telgemeier.
Consult my Middle School Must-Haves Booklist.
Watch the Drama trailer on YouTube.
Virtually flip through the book.
Check out the #DRAMADAY contest!