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  • “I Hate You Everything”: Reading Adolescent Bad Feelings in Tamaki’s Skim
  • Michelle Miller (bio)

At the end of part 2 in Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s graphic coming-of-age narrative Skim, a full-page panel shows tenth grade Kim Cameron (generally referred to as Skim) alone in a very large, snowy area.1 At the top of the page, the narration, which is drawn onto the scene as it is throughout the text, reads “Dear Diary.” Much further down, the diary entry continues, “It’s snowing.” In the bottom corner, there’s an inset panel with a photograph of a boy taken from a newspaper. On his forehead, someone has written “fag” with a marker. Readers have seen this photo before. It is of John Reddear, a local boy who has recently committed suicide. Reddear haunts the text—his image resurfaces at several points, as his ghostly presence is called up imaginatively and in both official and subversive curricula. While she never really knew him, having met him only once (she thinks), his life and death weigh heavily on Skim’s mind. [End Page 83]

The photo is mounted on a large memorial bulletin board that hangs in the hallway of the private girls’ school Skim attends. The headline from the newspaper article accompanying the photo is “Teen Taken: too soon” (Tamaki and Tamaki 89). Throughout the book, this bulletin board, created and maintained by the “Girls Celebrate Life” club, sits at the centre of the conflicting atmospheres surrounding John’s death. The school is officially concerned with mourning John by “celebrating” life and investing in staying alive themselves. This official program of mourning, which involves participating in balloon-releasing ceremonies, watching Dead Poet’s Society, and taking part in public and semi-private grief exercises, is required of all students, whose compliance is monitored by teachers and counselors as well as popular students. Despite the intensity of the demand for compliance—or perhaps due to it—an oppositional discourse squeezes over and over into the school arena. This other discourse resists the requirement to have appropriately sad feelings about John and positive feelings about the future, joking instead that “death is cool” (77). The bulletin board, adamantly proclaimed to be “school property,” and therefore, ideally at least, immune to being undermined, offers students a site to express aggression, either passively, by sticking gum to it, or actively, by vandalizing or even destroying it. The homophobic inscription of “fag” is one such expression of aggression.

In the larger scene, Skim walks a trail of letters—as long as she is tall—into the snow. This primary scene would be unseen by eyes on the ground: it’s only visible from our vantage above the action. We can thus read this as a deeply personal moment, in which Skim simultaneously expresses her feelings and keeps them obscured. Shuffling one foot in front of the other she inscribes the field with “I hate you,” then crosses out the “you” three times, replacing it with “everything.” We catch her before she finishes (she has written only “everythin”) and find her gazing back at her progress, even as we know she would be unable to make out her own words from her perspective. The co-presence of these separate but clearly related panels sharing the page signal that her school, social, and romantic/sexual situations are weighing on her. We can read the force of her hatred as directed at John, at the bulletin board containing this image, at the school hallways where the board hangs and where the unseen hand has inscribed him with “fag,” or at what readers know about Skim’s queer and complicated sexual life, which feels further complicated by the likelihood that this popular and supposedly well-adjusted boy’s suicide is attributed to the rumours that he is gay. [End Page 84]

This simple panel, which temporally stretches through a quiet afternoon, arrests me every time I arrive at it. Like other quiet, expansive moments in this sparse text, the panel invites me to dwell inside of it: not only to read its surface but to feel and read its textures, to experience the time...


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pp. 83-102
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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