“… the most dangerous things on earth are not guns, not bullets, not bombs. It’s ideas. I mean, they are positively lethal. They can blow up reputations, assassinate characters, rip apart lives.”
It all started because Debbie wanted to mess with the Invincibles (the superbrats). #SorryNotSorry. But one thing led to another, and before she knew it, she was hitting out at everyone, even the Incredibles (the geeks) and the Invisibles (the losers). Seriously, her online persona is starting to mess with her head.
The Secret Life of Debbie G. is the story of a sixteen-year-old who becomes an overnight sensation. Except, it’s her online persona that hits big time. In a world where the number of likes, comments, shares, DMs and followers determine a teenager’s sense of self-worth, how will her newly-acquired celebrity status influence her behaviour and affect her emotional health?
Soundarya is visiting her grandparents in Chennai for the summer with her mom. She is an angry teenager, permanently glued to her phone, who is mad at everything as is typical of her age.
A visit from Tarun Uncle, her classmate Kiara’s dad, comes as a surprise until her mother reveals she is considering a proposal of marriage from him. Arya is heartbroken that her mother kept it a secret all this time. In addition, she learns her father is not coming to visit her this summer as his new wife is pregnant. Feeling all alone, she turns to her friends Nikhil and Rukhsar for support.
For the families to get to know each other, Aishwarya and Tarun plan a family get-together in Chennai where he arrives with his parents and two children – Kiara, the superbrat, and Kiaan, Arya’s one-time crush. Needless to say, the meeting is a disaster.
Back in Delhi, school has started and Arya makes sure she stays out of sight to avoid being bullied and body-shamed but the negative comments find their way to sting her. Fed up of being the butt of their jokes, she creates an anonymous online personality to troll the trolls and becomes an instant sensation. But in robbing the high and mighty of their pride and giving the hoi polloi something to laugh about, could she have stretched the limits of fairness to the point of no return? Is her anonymity getting the better of her?
In this coming of age novel, Vibha Batra draws on the urban Indian family dynamic and raises pertinent questions that matter to young children with impressionable minds. Parental divorce, body shaming, bullying, gender and sexuality are some of the key topics she discusses through Arya’s story and attempts to offer a path to understand them rather than dictating right and wrong.
I loved the concept of the book and the medium the author uses to raise awareness around a global mental health pandemic. At the same time, I felt the flow of the story was inconsistent leaving the narrative rushed. I also thought the introduction of Arya’s anonymous persona, which is the premise of the book, past the halfway mark was too late to effectively explore the issues it set out with.
As a graphic novel, I liked the overall styling of the book with the balance of text and images. The jet black illustrations, however, seemed to overpower the emotional arc of the story creating a disconnect between the two. Maybe some black paired with more watered grays would have softened the appearance.
At an age when the young and younger are increasingly searching for validation online, this book dissects its effects on their mental health and development as well as their understanding of life.
The Secret Life of Debbie G. by Vibha Batra. Illustrated by Kalyani Ganapathy. Published in 2020 by HarperCollins Children’s Books, an imprint of HarperCollins India. This review copy courtesy of the author.
Book 49 of 2021.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2.
Available on Amazon*.
UPDATE 23rd Aug 2022: This review is now also published on womensweb.in
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