Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: ZITS: Chillax

HARPERTEEN/HARPERCOLLINS CHILDREN – @HarperCollins and @HarperChildrens

AUTHORS/ILLUSTRATORS: Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman
ISBN: 978-0-06-222851-2; paperback (May 21, 2013)
256pp, B&W, $9.99 U.S.

Ages 13 and up

Debuting in July 1997, Zits is a comic strip written by cartoonist Jerry Scott and drawn by artist Jim Borgman. The strip is set in a suburban central Ohio area and stars Jeremy Duncan, a 16-year-old high school sophomore. Zits: Chillax is a 2013 teen novel from Scott and Borgman and is set in the world of Zits. Zits: Chillax is also an illustrated novel, featuring more than 300 illustrations.

Just about every page of Zits: Chillax features art. There are spot illustrations throughout the text. Some pages are half-art and half text, and some pages are entirely illustrated, while there are many full and half double-page spreads. If that were not enough to put the “illustrated” in illustrated novel, the authors have also included art that imitates comic strips and comic books.

Zits: Chillax stars Jeremy Duncan, described as a teen slacker. He has a girlfriend (Sara Toomey), a best friend (Hector Garcia), and is the lead guitarist of a four-member garage band called Chickenfist. Now, Jeremy is about to go to his first real rock concert, and it will be a chance for him to see his favorite musical act, the guitar mayhem band, Gingivitis.

However, the only reason Jeremy and Hector got two tickets to the Gingivitis show is because the tickets’ original owner, Tim, their friend and fellow band mate, will be busy donating bone marrow for his cancer-stricken mother. Jeremy’s parents, Connie and Walter (“Walt”) Duncan, and his friends and their parents are doing things to support Tim and his family. However, Jeremy and Hector are going to be at the concert the very night Tim will be in a hospital donating the bone marrow. Jeremy and Hector decide to have a rockin’ good time in support of their pal, and hopefully also score him a supremely cool souvenir. The pursuit of fun and swag leads to a night the two friends will never forget.

The press release that I received with my review copy of Zits: Chillax (from HarperCollins) says that the book “speaks ‘teen’ fluently…” Other than what I hear on television, I don’t know what teenaged vernacular is this year, but Chillax has slang and language that I recognize from pop culture. Actually, I don’t care about what Chillax “speaks,” but I assume that it is important to the publishers.

What I do care about is the quality of Zits: Chillax. It is actually a good read, and I say “actually” because I was mostly bored with this book for the first three chapters. At the end of the third chapter, Tim announces his mother’s cancer. Suddenly, the book changes, and, for me, it really starts to grapple with what it means to be a teenager when “real life,” meaning adult troubles, intrude on the fun time.

I remember, as a child, avoiding anything to do with discussing cancer. Once, my mother took us to visit one of her relatives who had late stage cancer. My mother told me that the relative “looked really bad.” So when we got to the relative’s home, I stayed in the car, because I was so afraid of what she might look like. I remember staring at the house, imagining the sick person behind the front door. I think Stephen King could have transformed my thoughts and feelings at that moment into a story to scare everyone. In reality, there was nothing or no one truly frightening behind that door.

However, Zits: Chillax is not downbeat. It is a gentle, yet lively teen adventure about teenagers being allowed to find their own way to express friendship and solidarity when faced with tough issues like grave and serious illness. Zits: Chillax is funny and has heart, and I am happy that there will be another Zits illustrated teen novel, Zits: Shredded!, which is previewed at the back of this book.

Aimed at teenagers, I think Zits: Chillax is appropriate for and will appeal to late pre-teen readers. Plus, fans of the Zits comic strip – of all ages – should try this book.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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