The last day of seventh grade is finally here! For most of Jaime and Maya’s classmates, that means a half day of classes and cleaning out lockers, then field day, then the first official pool day of the summer. For Jaime and Maya themselves… they are absolutely dreading the day. They’ve been best friends since elementary school, but Jaime doesn’t feel like they’re friends anymore. She has a nasty feeling Maya, along with Celia and Grace, the rest of their friend group, don’t want to be friends with her anymore, and wants to try and fix it. Maya, however, encouraged by Celia, wants to find a way to break off their long-term friendship. If the popular, mature Celia says it’s the right thing to do, then it must be… right? Then why does she feel so guilty for what she’s about to do?
This middle-grade graphic novel takes a singular, and yet universal, aspect of navigating friendships, drama, and reputations, and examines it in great detail over the course of one day. We alternate between chapters from Jaime and Maya’s point of view, which was a smart design choice in that readers get to see some background information and events from both girls’ perspectives. What interested me about the layout was not so much alternating chapters themselves, but the format was different for Jaime and Maya.
Jaime’s chapters were mostly prose, with small illustrations between paragraphs. Even though her chapters are much more text-heavy, there is sufficient white space between the text and the illustrations so that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a whole lot. This makes sense for Jaime, who spends much of the book inside herself, trying to figure out what went wrong. Her introspection-heavy side of the story might not have translated as effectively in either just prose or just graphic novel.
Maya’s chapters were in more traditional graphic novel format. Her chapters deal with more people than herself, as she interacts with Celia and Grace for most of the story. We see firsthand, rather than are told about, the friend group’s dysfunction. To show rather than tell Maya’s side of the story was an excellent choice. It allows the reader to discover that the friend group aren’t truly friends on their own.
I’m not the intended target audience for this book, so me as an adult reader kept rolling her eyes at who I knew to be the perpetrator, and the extreme melodrama of youth and friend groups that I definitely don’t miss. However, middle-grade readers will adore it. It will get them thinking more critically about their own friends and friend groups. Perhaps they, like Jaime and Maya, will discover that friends can be found in unexpected places, and that old friendships can withstand anything.
Libenson, Terri. Just Jaime. 2019.