TITLE: The Secret Life of Debbie G
AUTHOR: Vibha Batra
ILLUSTRATOR: Kalyani Ganapathy
PAGE EXTENT: 296
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins India
GENRE: YA Contemporary Graphic Novel
MY RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
SOURCE: Received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Secret Life of Debbie G is the story of a sixteen-year-old who becomes an online sensation overnight. Except, it’s her online persona that hits big time. Set in contemporary times, where the number of likes/ comments/ shares/ DMs/ followers determine a teenager’s sense of self-worth, the story takes a close look at how social media influences their behaviour and affects their emotional health. Equal parts poignant and fun, this is a bittersweet coming-of-age story.
TW: Divorce, separation, outing, homophobia, bullying, fat shaming, slut shaming
“I’d been angry a long time. At life in general. At my parents in particular. I’d held on to my anger for so long that it had become a part of me. That’s the thing about rage, it consumes you from within, leaves you hollow. It’s like a parasite that needs a host to live off. Once it infects you, it takes over your mind, impairs your judgment slowly but surely, until eventually you can’t tell right from wrong, friend from foe.”
The Secret Life of Debbie G is probably one of the most relatable books I’ve read of late. This coming-of-age graphic novel follows 16-year-old Soundarya (who, for the record, hates her name and prefers to go by Arya. We are soulsisters, gurl.) who hails from a South Indian family and attends a posh school in New Delhi. She is a plus-sized teen who is unapologetic and embraces her curves (Yay for rep!) This heartfelt story is all about how her plan to get back at the bullies and meanies at school makes her an online sensation in an instant, and how things start going downhill! I don’t want to divulge too much of the plot here. Read the book to find out more!
It amazed me how Vibha Batra has effortlessly managed to step into the mind of the current Gen Z teenager with just the right dose of modern phrases and lingo! Considering how the illustrations are the mainstay of a graphic novel, Kalyani Ganapathy’s illustration style paired with Vibha’s quirky writing made this a joyful and quick reading experience! Arya’s deadpan sarcasm had me giggling!
Arya’s maternal grandparents are your typical judgmental Indian grandparents and had me rolling my eyes multiple times. Vibha has managed to perfectly capture Indian family dynamics, while also dealing with issues such as divorce, separation, remarriage and most importantly, finding love all over again.
Arya’s relationship with her mother, Aishwarya is one of my favorite mother-daughter relationships in YA. Aishwarya, a divorcee, is portrayed as a strong, broad-minded, independent woman with a modern outlook who wants to bring out the best in the people around her. The sub-plot of her falling in love all over again and marrying her new-found love interest shows how such events have to be normalized and how the stigma following the same has to be erased from the society we are a part of.
Nickster and Rucksack (a.k.a Nikhil and Rukhsar) are super endearing and I was constantly looking forward to their hilarious banter with Arya throughout the book! Rukhsar, a budding TV star and Nikhil, who has found a new partner (not talking more about this here because hey, spoilers), are Arya’s two besties and they own storylines highlight some of the evils prevalent in our society.
Most importantly, this book conveys how social media and want for online fame(followers, likes, comments etc.) can have an adverse effect on one’s mental health and emotional wellbeing, and also shows how we might go to extreme lengths for popularity and fame and how things can come crumbling down. In short, the perils of social media and what becoming prey to social media might make us do.
Batra doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of life and addresses a myriad of sensitive issues in this book, viz. slut-shaming, fat-shaming, divorce, bullying, outing, homophobia to name a few.
This would have been a solid 5-star read for me, if not for the abrupt ending and the absence of a trigger warning. Since this book deals with sensitive issues, I would have appreciated a trigger warning in the beginning. Being someone who has dealt with outing and extreme homophobia, I found those scenes a bit triggering. Trigger warnings are extremely important in books that deal with sensitive topics.
The ending was very abrupt and seemed choppy to me. Had the book been wrapped up on a better note, with some healing time, it would have been the perfect graphic novel for me.
If you’re in the mood for a quick read and want to roll your eyes at judgmental uncles and aunties and relate to how everything was about looking and doing ‘cool’ stuff back in school, pick this one up. Trust me, you’re in for a rollercoaster ride!