LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This last weekend of the year, we're looking back on some of the best books of 2012. In this encore broadcast, Glen Weldon highlights two graphic novels from the past year, starting with one called "Drama" by Raina Telgemeier.
GLEN WELDON: "Drama" is a young adult graphic novel about a middle-school girl named Callie...
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: (as Callie) What's up?
WELDON: ...who is a complete theater nerd.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: (as Callie) I've never seen a live production of "Moon over Mississippi," but I have the deluxe edition soundtrack, which has a ton of photos from the original Broadway production. And they built this amazing...
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as character) OK, Callie. We get it.
WELDON: And she wants to be part of her middle-school play, which is a musical, but she doesn't want to be the star. What she wants is to be the stage manager. She's the set designer. There's a scene toward the center of the book where she auditions for the show, even though she knows she doesn't want to be the star. She doesn't want to be in the show. She wants to help run the show. But she clambers up on stage and proceeds to audition and sings her guts out - can't sing - blows it completely and then the next day she's looking at the list in the hallway. And, of course, she doesn't get the part. And when mean girls attack her for being a terrible singer...
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: (as Bonnie) Could you even believe some of those other girls who tried out? None of them even had a chance.
WELDON: She upbraids them by saying, you know, this is supposed to be fun.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: (as Callie) For your information, I wasn't actually trying out for that part. I was having fun. This is supposed to be fun, remember?
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: (as Bonnie) Whatever you say.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as character) Don't be rude, Bonnie. We're all going to have to work together after all.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: What? So, are you in the play? You don't seem like the type.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: I'm going to be on the stage crew, thanks to the extra-awesome Callie here.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: Oh, that's makes sense, for a brainiac like you.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: I am so tempted to start tutoring her in manners instead of in science.
WELDON: What I love about the book is that it comes with the typical YA trappings of, you know, she crushes on the wrong guy and she gets in a fight with her friends. But the really great thing about this is that this girl knows who she is, and she is completely un-self-conscious.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as character) The dancing part looks hard.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: (as Callie) I don't mind the fun kind of dancing. Like at school dances where you just jump around and stuff.
WELDON: If somebody handed this book to me in seventh grade, I still would have been the same self-conscious jerk I am, but it would have helped, it would have helped so much. And another book I brought in was "Crackle of the Frost."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) I remember it very well. We were on our way back from the beach. My skin was on fire. The car was like an oven, a box made of iron and heat, paralyzed in the middle of traffic.
WELDON: "Crackle of the Frost" is much different, much more adult, much more oblique and slightly sinister. This book is about a guy who has spent his life fleeing from responsibility, who slowly comes to terms with responsibility over the course of the book. His ex-girlfriend informs him that she has had a child and he goes to visit her, and that's the story of the book.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) What were my thoughts as the airplane rose into the air? I wasn't thinking about anything. I was gazing at shapes that my memory had retained as if flipping through the pages of a photo album.
WELDON: The prose of the book is very German, very restrained, very coolly intellectual, yet the art is what makes this book sing. The art is lushly, vividly colored with all these gorgeous pastels, working on a level of dream logic, purely emotion. So, there's a scene, for example, where the sound of his girlfriend's voice become in his mind this flock of shadow birds that chase him to the corridors of his mind in a very creepy way.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Sometimes, without warning, my memory would stumble upon Alice's words.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as Alice) I want to have a baby, a baby with you, Samuel.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And then the noise again.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOISES)
WELDON: There's a scene where, as he's traveling on the bus to meet his girlfriend, the bus stops because there's a forest fire in the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Samuel) The thunder of the flames, the sparks of incandescent resin, the cries of the fleeing animals, the uproar of men driven mad by the fire. The fire, the thunder.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRACKLING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The fire is surrounded by a bell of silence. A fire and its roar. The forest and its mumbles.
WELDON: And there's another scene toward the end of the book where he's attending to his father in the hospital.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Samuel) My father purchased at the age of 84 his first bicycle. His doctor had advised him for the Nth time these past 10 years to get a little exercise, a little morning walk in the countryside.
WELDON: So, if the prose works on a very coolly intellectual level, sort of Thomas Mann or Kazuo Ishiguro, yet the art is pure Kafka and Murakami. It's really grabbing you and it's not letting you go. It's great.
WERTHEIMER: That was Glen Weldon, author of "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography," telling us about the books "The Crackle of the Frost" by Lorenzo Mattotti and Jorge Zentner, and before that "Drama" by Raina Telgemeier. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.