Tuesday 9 July 2024

Timid (A Graphic Novel)

Timid (A Graphic Novel) by Jonathan Todd (Scholastic Australia, Graphix) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN: 9781761523977

Reviewed by Kellie Nissen

Cecil Hall in in Year 6 – an age when stability at school and at home is vital. He is shy and a little awkward but at least he’s found his place and is recognised for who he is. Then, he finds out that his father has a new job in Massachusetts, and they need to pack up their Florida home and move.

How will Cecil fit in and make friends all over again at his new school? It’s all he can think about and his older sister, Leah, makes it worse when she warns him against gaining a reputation as an ‘Oreo’ – a ‘black kid who acts white’.

From the first day at his new school, even with Leah’s warning clear in his mind, Cecil struggles with his insecurity and finds himself befriended by ‘the white kids’ who are impressed with his cartooning ability. At his old school, Cecil was known for his cartoons, so he sets a goal to become the cartoonist for his new school – and ultimately, develop a career as a cartoonist. His father’s belief, however, is that Cecil should toughen up, learn to fight and only view cartooning as a hobby.

Timid is a graphic novel and is also a semi-autobiographical portrayal of author Jonathan’s Todd’s life growing up. The reader is drawn into Cecil’s world, given the privilege of getting inside his head and thoughts as he goes about his ordinary day-to-day existence.

For many of us, particularly if we are feeling shy or insecure, there is a difference between what we say and how we behave outwardly, and what we are really thinking and feeling. Jonathan Todd captures this, highlighting it perfectly as Cecil grapples with the real-world issues faced by many pre-adolescents – the need for acceptance versus the need to express themselves and develop their identity.

Even though this story is set in the US, the themes of racial diversity, identity, tolerance and resilience are universal and will resonate with the target mid-grade audience of 8–12-year-old readers.

The graphic novel style has allowed Todd to highlight the main themes in the text, leaving the rest of the story to be told via simple yet effective illustrations. Despite the very limited text, with no descriptions or overt characterisation, the main characters – Cecil, Chris (Cecil’s nemesis), Sean, Ruthie, and Imani – all feel real and will likely be relatable at some level to Australian students of a similar age.

Despite its complex themes and its tendency towards a slightly disjointed and gappy plot structure (which is highly reflective of a pre-teen’s state of mind), Timid is an easy read and is a book I am very happy to recommend for its relatable interiority of thought and experience.

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