47 pages 1 hour read

Svetlana Chmakova


Fiction | Graphic Novel/Book | Middle Grade | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Awkward is a 2015 middle-grade graphic novel written and illustrated by author and artist Svetlana Chmakova. Chmakova left Russia for Canada at 16 years old. There, she finished high school and completed Sheridan College’s Classical Animation program. She has published more than a dozen books, which have been translated into 13 languages. Her most popular series include the Berrybrook Middle School series, the Nightschool series, and the Dramacon series.

Awkward is the first book in the Berrybrook Middle School series. It follows Penelope “Peppi” Torres as she attempts to make amends for shoving the quiet Jaime away from her in the hall. The graphic novel features a diverse cast and deals with issues such as teasing, opposite-sex friendships, the struggles of balancing community and competition, and how to be responsible for the mistakes we make in adolescence.

Awkward has won many awards, including the 2016 Eisner Award nomination, the School Library Journal's Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2015, the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2016 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, the McDuffie Award for Kids' Comics, the Dragon Award for Kids Comics, and many more. A full list of awards can be found on Chmakova’s website (“About.” Svetlana Chmakova).

This guide refers to the 2015 Yen Press hardback edition.

Content Warning: The source text and guide contain descriptions of bullying. They also contain brief descriptions of parental emotional and verbal abuse.

Plot Summary

On Peppi’s first day at Berrybrook Middle School, she trips and drops her things. When Jaime bends down to help her, some kids start teasing them. In a panic, Peppi shoves Jaime and runs away. Weeks later, after she has joined the art club and made some friends there, Peppi still feels guilty about what she did to Jaime but can’t apologize to him because she is too shy.

The art club supervisor, Mr. Ramirez, tells the club that their table at the upcoming school fair has been revoked even though the science club, their rivals, has a table. Maribella, an outgoing student, finds out that the principal revoked their table because they don’t contribute to the school community. Maribella plans for the art club to make a page of comics for the school newspaper to redeem their club.

Meanwhile, Peppi struggles in science class. When she accidentally turns in a drawing of a mermaid, her teacher Miss Tobins tells her that art can be scientific, and she can get extra credit if she labels the mermaid’s anatomy. Peppi needs science tutoring, and Miss Tobins has asked one of her science club kids to tutor Peppi. When Peppi arrives at tutoring, she sees that her new tutor is Jaime.

Peppi can’t apologize to Jaime and awkwardly struggles through her tutoring. Tensions between the science and art club grow as the science club does destructive experiments in the hallway. Maribella recruits Peppi as her co-editor for the comics. When their school takes a field trip to a Discovery Center, Peppi finds herself enraptured by tales of scientific exploration. Miss Tobins organizes a geocache hunt, and Peppi is put on a team with the science club kids, including Jaime. After they work together to find a geocache, she and Jaime have their first tension-free conversation as they bond over the experience.

As the art club’s newspaper deadline approaches, the members struggle with making their comics. Peppi wants to make a comic about geocaching. Meanwhile, the science club grows bolder. They ignore Miss Tobins’ warnings and their experiments become more dangerous. They end up pulling a prank at the regional science fair that ruins the entire event. Noticing the science club’s increasingly dangerous behavior, the principal issues a challenge to both clubs: to create a project that contributes to the school community; the club with the most popular project will get a table at the school fair. Being put in direct competition stokes the clubs’ ire for one another.

Peppi bikes to Maribella’s house after school to plan their comic panel. While there, Peppi notices that Maribella seems both scared of and eager to please her hyper-competitive father, who tells Maribella he’s glad she isn’t like her mother. While biking back home, Peppi is almost hit by a car. Jaime and his mother happen to be passing by, so Jaime’s mother invites Peppi inside their house so she can wait for her mom to pick her up. Jaime eagerly shows Peppi around his house: his father does science and has a cool workshop with many inventions, while his mother is an artist and has a studio of beautiful paintings. Peppi is impressed and doesn’t want to leave.

Jaime’s mom encourages Peppi to apologize to Jaime, and Peppi gets the idea to draw him an apology, which she leaves in his locker. While Jaime is holding it, the mean kids steal it. Peppi screams at them, scaring them into running away. She and Jaime walk home together, laughing.

The art club works hard to finish their comics by the deadline, though their relationship with the science club is still hostile. Peppi is sad that the animosity between the clubs makes her feel like she can’t talk to Jaime at school. She is excited when his mom has Peppi’s family over to dinner.

The next week, the science club announce that their project will be a remote solar plane. The art club is dejected. When their comics come out, many people like them, but others make fun of them. Jaime tells Peppi her geocaching comic was the best one. Despite this, the art club feels like they will lose the competition.

One day, Maribella confesses that out of desperation, she stole Jaime’s remote for the plane. She begs Peppi to help her hide it and Peppi reluctantly agrees. The next day, Maribella isn’t at school. Peppi bikes to Maribella’s house to return the remote, but a neighbor reveals that Maribella’s parents got in a massive fight the night before, and Maribella and her mother packed their suitcases and left. Peppi decides to secretly return the remote to Jaime’s house, but he catches her. Surprised and hurt, he shouts at her.

The next day, the science club launches their plane, but the principal tells both clubs that neither will get the table due to their unsportsmanlike behavior. He disbands both clubs. That day after school, Maribella comes to Peppi’s house. She and her mother are moving several states away to get away from her father.

The next day at school, Miss Tobins compliments Peppi’s work in her science and art classes. She tells Peppi about Leonardo da Vinci, who exceled at both subjects, wishing the clubs could see that science and art aren’t that different. This gives Peppi an idea about how to get her club back. That afternoon, Jaime comes to her house to apologize for shouting at her. Peppi forgives him and recruits him to help her with her plan.

After school the next day, Peppi and Jaime propose that their clubs pool their skills to create a planetarium. The clubs work overtime to finish. The principal is so pleased with their creation he gives them both tables at the fair. Later, Peppi and Jaime talk about how they’ll collaborate next year. The mean kids start teasing them again, but this time, the reconciled art and science clubs join forces to stand up for Jaime and Peppi. After this, they sit together in the cafeteria for the first time.

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