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Potential: The High School Comic Chronicles of Ariel Schrag (High School Chronicles of Ariel Schrag) Paperback – Bargain Price, May 6, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
A memoir made while Schrag was still in high school, Potential is an honest, rambling, obsessive narrative of high school angst, with a potential of its own peeking through. The story starts as Schrag comes to terms with the fact that she only likes girls, and then moves into her first failed foray at a relationship, the loss of her virginity and the ups and downs of her first serious lesbian relationship. The plot is bumpy; some segments are awkwardly inserted and lack significant resolution, such as the section focusing on Schrag's attempt to lose her virginity to a guy friend. While an important episode of her adolescence, the segment seems isolated within the larger narrative of Schrag's relationship with her girlfriend, Sally, which is well developed and poignant. The art is very impressive for a comic made by an artist still in high school and matures over the course of the book. The emotional depth of the characters is depicted through vivid and fluid expressions, and Schrag uses different styles to illustrate varying states of consciousness. Schrag's later works are more mature and better formed, but this coming-of-age story amply displays the emotional uncertainty of adolescence. (May)
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"A smart, sweet graphic memoir. Schrag's work should resonate with anyone -- female or male, gay or straight -- who has survived high school." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"A mesmerizing read...hilarious frankness and a wickedly addictive sense of storytelling." -- The Village Voice
"One of the best pure storytellers I have ever read, in any medium." -- The Comics Journal
"Schrag's autobiographical comics illustrate adolescent life with unwavering energy, unrelenting sarcasm, and unabashed detail." -- Bitch
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Top customer reviews
Ariel Schrag skillfully depicts the many challenges, joys, and experiences of young lesbians in high school (and beyond). She not only portrays her high school experience, first love and her first break up, she wittily comments on the complexities of the formation of her sexual identity, and exposes the real (and raw) anxiety and depression experienced by many students in high school. This book delves into the personal and social pressures of loosing ones virginity, trying to understand virginity as a young lesbian/queer youth, and makes several valiant attempts to identify the all but inscrutable definition of lesbiansex. All of this is done with a great deal vulnerability and humor. The honesty soaking these pages is refreshing. This is an extraordinary piece of art.
If young LGBTQ youth could find this book in their high school libraries, they might feel a little less alone and their lives might just feel just a little less complicated.
But there are other, more pressing issues that Ariel must deal with in her junior year of high school. For one thing, she had settled on the label of bisexual after her sophomore year experiences, but she's definitely feeling more and more drawn to the lesbian side. Now if only she could figure out how to navigate the tricky emotional waters of dating during the teenage years.
Ariel Schrag's true-life series of work--which began with freshman year in Awkward and continued in sophomore year's Definition--is as brave as it is funny. Schrag completed each work in the summer after each respective school year, not only putting her own life squarely under the microscope, but also telling the stories of her friends, family, and acquaintances. As her classmates at Berkeley High School in the mid- to late '90s learned, nothing was secret or sacred.
Schrag's abilities both as an artist and a storyteller have greatly improved by the time of Potential. Awkward was a potpourri of images, sometimes far too crowded for one page, but Definition showed real evolution in her work. With Potential, she allows herself plenty of room in which to pace her story, starting slowly with her puppy love relationship with a boy and moving on to the more complicated territory of her lesbian dating life and the emotional effects of her parents' divorce.
Potential, like the work that preceded it, succeeds on several levels, not least of which is that Schrag doesn't rehash coming-of-age tales we've read before. Instead, it's a fresh take on teen years, one set in a modern age where homosexuality doesn't have to be hidden. That doesn't necessarily make it any easier for the author, but it's refreshing for the reader to follow a young woman who's confident in her own sense of self.
Schrag doesn't shy away from mature themes in her work, nor does she sugarcoat it. She offers an honest account of the awkwardness and thrills of discovering one's self and one's sexual identity. It's a bonus that all of this is coupled with a more daring (and often quite strikingly beautiful) drawing style. Schrag can go from cartoony to chiaroscuro within a page, which mirrors the complexities of her story.
It's a wonderful experience growing up with Schrag and experiencing her teen years vicariously. Later this year, Touchstone will release Likewise, where senior year hits and the story of Schrag's high-school career comes to an end. One can only hope that her post-high-school years were as eventful and fun as this, and that Schrag will decide to keep entertaining us with her wit.
-- John Hogan