The Secret Life of Debbie G
The graphic novel ‘ The Secret Life of Debbie G’ is just a little short of 300 pages. Its protagonist Soundarya, Arya (preferred name), and Insta handle Debbie G, have a bucket of problems. She’s a teen who is on the verge of adulthood. Her parents are divorced and her father remarried. She has reconciled to the life of having an active single parent, her mother. She then learns that her mother would like to marry a friend who happens to be the father of two teens who study with her at her school.
This means a new home, an extra set of grandparents, siblings and lots of changes in her young life. Her two friends Nick and Rucksack are her pillars of support. The three youngsters share their daily travails, each supporting one other.
Debbie feels she lives life on the sidelines because she is overweight and has so many emotions fighting with one another within her. These insecurities prevent her from seeing the bright, resilient young person she is.
Debbie G sees that the most feted youngsters in her upscale school are those who look like models and have several followers on Instagram. The social hierarchy in her school does not seem to have any place for outliers.
Debbie is attracted to her handsome classmates, but so are most of the other schoolgirls. Debbie’s appearance does not bode for reciprocation of her feelings.
Underlying all the new lingo, the texting abbreviations and references to popular young adult fiction the author is able to capture Debbie’s confusion and frustration. Debbie is lonely. Very lonely. She doesn’t like going unnoticed. She doesn’t like her step-sibling’s casual bullying. She doesn’t like the adjusting she is forced to do, the second time around. (Her parent’s divorce being the first). She can’t seem to express herself to her best friends or even admit her true feelings to them. Debbie is a ticking emotional time bomb.
Debbie G is quite the celebrity online though. The anonymous author of a comic strip, she draws out what others are speaking in hushed tones. In this Debbie errs. In a sphere where she is a celebrity, she forgets the loneliness of being invisible and misunderstood. Instead, she targets the popular kids online as they did her offline. Debbie doesn’t see the error of her ways blinded as she is by the bright light of popularity her comic strip receives. Her unmindfulness proves costly for her but like most things in teen life, this too is ephemeral. Debbie marches towards adulthood wiser, with a greater understanding of herself and enhanced empathy.
Author Vibha Mathur in an interview with The Hindu shared why she wrote The Secret Life of Debbie G.
“I knew I wanted to write something contemporary and it was to be for children. I realised while going through social media that people thrive on the ‘likes’ they get. And I wondered how far would a teenager go to get those likes and followers. Would they lose sight of themselves? And if they actually crossed over to the dark side, what would happen then?”.
The author has chosen a group of 16 -year-olds as the story's characters. She shines the light on cultural stereotyping, body shaming, and generation gaps. She also emphasises the importance of consent, maintaining boundaries even with the closest of friends and the consequences of your choices and actions.
Ace illustrator Kalyani Ganapthy's illustrations convey angst, urgency, despair and intimacy through her vividly textured black and white images.
The Secret Life of Debbie G is suitable for teens and adults, particularly parents. I say this because this book provides an insight into the emotional growing up that teens have to do. Teens have to cope with peer pressure, and problems at home and manage their own feelings.
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