The book written by Vibha Batra as a graphic novel , wonderfully illustrated by Kalyani Ganapathy is an insightful look into the tangled mess of our teen’s lives and its fragile emotional states , that depend on a rapidly morphing world of the approval of their peers.
Our story begins with Soundarya,(or “Arya “ as she would prefer) our sixteen year old protagonist desperately struggling with her phone not working, clearly resenting the fact that she was spending her summer as always with her grandparents in Chennai, while the folks in her class explored the world , and of course showed it off on Insta and Facebook. Little did she know there were bigger problems coming her way. Her mum ,divorced, is now getting married to her classmate’s dad and her step brother to be her ex-crush! Ugh!! The world around her is spinning out of control as her mum reveals her dad ‘s new wife is now expecting. Of course, she needs her besties , even if they were the Invisibles in school. But Nick (Nikhil) is buried under a ton of academic classes and now has a new girlfriend. Rucksack (Ruksar) has landed a part in a TV show and not only is she very busy, she may be moving up the ranks, as her ‘star’ quality makes her visible to the Invincibles.
Her to-be step sister Kiara , her classmate is absolutely horrible to her – fat shaming her while appearing to be the nicest kid to the elders. Her Micron pen and doodling make a comeback as a way to deal with the madness , and as she starts to picture her life in comics. But as juicy gossip seems to make its way to Arya, the Fresher’s party serves as the straw that breaks the camel’s back! Arya cannot take this anymore and she creates an online profile of “Debbie G” ‘to embarrass , humiliate and shame the Invincibles. Publicly. Anonymously. Relentlessly.’ There on, what starts off as an accident , gains popularity and gives her power. As things slowly spiral out of control , the online persona threatens to ruin her best friendship. How will Arya deal with the tidal wave of change in her life from her Mom’s wedding to her best friend’s secret? Has her online persona taken over her mind? Just how far will she go?
The book has made bold forays into many areas that are taboo and unspoken in our books – divorce & remarriage of parents, fat shaming, eating disorders,homophobia and coming out of the closet and the incessant emotional warfare inflicted by social media on the unsuspecting teens. The graphic novel format makes it an easy and unique read and an unsuspectingly simpler medium to bring across these poignant issues easily. With extensive use of phone screen chats and witty hashtags and lingo that seem to touch the right nerve for the YA audience, author Vibha has pulled out a winner for this difficult to please generation!
Reading age: 12+
… Arya’s mother repeatedly assures Arya that she comes first and grapples with the idea of accepting the proposal. Meanwhile her Dad has already moved across the country and married and is expecting a child.
Why do women often struggle with guilt in marriages? What does it tell you about having stereotypes whether a mother is associated with giving all the time?
…The teasing and the scars -Arya is called ‘black panther’ , ‘freak’ and ‘ the reason to invent double doors’ at the party and yet she has heard these names before and not reacted as violently. I myself shuddered when I read “bang the producer” and “casting ouch” for a classmate and could see Arya getting riled up .
How do we prepare ourselves /our kids for such situations where we know standing up is important and yet, stooping to the same level is unacceptable?
…Does the graphic novel medium help to deal with sensitive issues in an easier to consume format? I read Hey KIDDO this yeat earlier and was shaken by the heavy graphic autobiography – mother’s drug addiction and jail, a child raised by grandparents, a dad who was happily remarried but did not want to acknowledge him.
… Why is there an absolute need to grasp the power of social media and an urgency in understanding why it needs to focus on spreading goodwill , rather than pull down another while sitting behind a screen?
…How do we build resilience and self love in our kids to stay afloat and not have their self worth determined by online likes/dislikes or comments?
Once again thanks Vibha Batra and Kalyani Ganapathy for a timely and poignant read for our preteens and teens , who are all armed with a device and internet in the online learning world.
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