For Penelope Torres, the first cardinal rule to follow when starting a new school is, “Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.”
She fails at this on her very first day at Berrybrook Middle School. She trips in the hallway and spills all her stuff on the floor. A boy comes over to help pick up her things—nice of him, but other kids laugh and cry out, “The nerd had a girlfriend!” and “Nerder girlfriend!” Penelope panics. She shoves the quiet boy away and shouts at him to leave her alone.
Afterward, she feels ashamed of how she treated the boy, but she can’t manage to apologize. And she sees him everywhere…in the hallways, the lunch room, the library. When she has to get help in science, he’s the tutor the teacher assigns her. And now Penelope’s Art Club and the boy’s Science Club are practically at war.
It’s all very Awkward.
Genre: graphic novel, realistic fiction
Anna’s take on it:
I’m always curious, at the beginning of a new booktalk season, to see which titles on my list will become the superstars. Awkward is having a strong showing so far this fall — among girls and boys.
I don’t usually mention that it’s a graphic novel until I’m already into the booktalk. Then I show the page where Penelope shoves Jaime away — and I hear the ripple through the audience: “Oh, I want to read that one.”
When I googled “How to pronounce Chmakova” (the author’s last name), I came across a great resource for anyone who has to pronounce author names. In short audio clips, hundreds of authors pronounce their own names and often give anecdotes about their name and where it comes from. Chmakova is roughly shma’-kova. (Eoin Colfer, by the way, is pronounced like Owen, not Ian–though he says he’s rather fond of the mispronunciation “Eon,” since it makes him feel like a Star Trek character.)
I found Awkward on a top 10 graphic novels list for the year, and I knew as soon as I read it that I wanted to use it on my fall booktalk list. I’m happy that the students’ initial response has been so good.