Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

'Frazzled' Takes Hilarious Look At The Ups and Downs Of Middle School


If you want to scare a kid - like, see them actually shiver - just say these two words - middle school. There is something about those years - the changes, the betweenness, not a child, not a teenager - that makes middle school pretty dreadful for a lot of kids. That's what Booki Vivat has tapped into for her first book. It's a graphic novel for kids. It's called "Frazzled: Everyday Disasters And Impending Doom." And she is with us now from our New York bureau. Welcome to the show.

BOOKI VIVAT: Thank you so much for having me.

MCEVERS: So tell us a little bit about the main character in this book. Her name is Abbie Wu. What's going on with her when we first meet her at the beginning of the book?

VIVAT: Well, Abbie Wu is naturally and forever has been a kid who is just always freaking out. And especially now she's freaking out because she's heading into middle school, and she doesn't really know what to expect. And she's dealing with a lot of new, scary emotions.

MCEVERS: And this is a graphic novel, and so I wonder how that came to be. I mean did you draw it first and write it later?

VIVAT: It actually was an idea that came out of these illustrated planners that I keep. And I started keeping these planers as a way to kind of keep my life organized. And eventually doodles of my feelings and emotions and the things that I was doing - they ended up taking over my whole planner.

And one - like, through a series of very fortunate events, it got into the hands of an editor at HarperCollins. And this editor was flipping through these pages of my, like, private life, and she came across this one illustration that I had done in a moment of extreme crisis and very dramatic emotion that read, I live my life in a constant state of impending doom. And she pointed to the girl in that picture and said, there's a story here; that's our girl.


VIVAT: And so...

MCEVERS: And you - I mean that's where you work. You work...

VIVAT: Yes, I do.

MCEVERS: Could you just describe Abbie Wu for us, you know, kind of what she looks like and the visual world that she's moving through?

VIVAT: Yeah. So Abby Wu is an Asian-American girl. She's just kind of wild and wacky. And I think that she has a lot of emotions. And the book definitely shows her as having those emotions.

MCEVERS: Right, and she's sort of talking about the curse of the middles. You know, not only she going into middle school, but she's the middle child. She's got this, like - these two siblings on either side of her who are kind of, like, these wonder kids who everybody loves. And she's just not really feeling like she's as great as they are.

VIVAT: Exactly. And I think the worst part about middle school for her is that everyone else seems to have it figured out, and she doesn't have anything figured out. I think that for her, the biggest, scariest part about middle school is the fact that she feels like she has to have her thing figured out, you know...


VIVAT: ...The thing that makes her who she is, the thing that everyone knows her for, her capital-T thing.


VIVAT: And she hasn't found that yet.

MCEVERS: And I love that everything kind of goes OK for her for a while. You know, she kind of starts to figure things out. But then it takes another bad turn.

VIVAT: It does. It does. So really the thing that is getting to her on top of all the existential stuff is the concrete details of the fact that in middle school, the cafeteria ladies are just a little bit corrupt. And they don't let the sixth graders have any of the good food.

So Abbie thinks that this is just a huge injustice, so she starts this kind of underground lunch revolution. She actually kind of falls into starting it. And I think at first she doesn't really know what she's doing, but the more that she gets pulled into this world, the more she kind of starts to take on more of a leadership role.

MCEVERS: As I was reading it, I thought to myself, this was written by an adult, but it's really, like, inside the head of a kid. How did you do it?

VIVAT: I think a lot of adults don't want to admit it, but I think we're all still kind of stuck in middle school. At least that's how I feel. But I think ultimately the questions that come up in middle school are kind of questions that I think continue on through adulthood, these ideas of, who am I? Where do I belong?

I feel like that's something that I'm still struggling with and still kind of working through. And it's something that we don't really tell kids. I think that becoming an adult and growing up - it's all a process, and it's not necessarily something you grow out of.

MCEVERS: The book ends on kind of a cliffhanger. I mean does that mean there's going to be "Frazzled" two?

VIVAT: There will be a "Frazzled" two, and I kind of wanted it to end on a cliffhanger. I threw around the idea of giving her thing, but it just didn't feel right because I think the whole book was about her kind of coming to the realization that figuring out who you are and where you belong in life is a process.

MCEVERS: That's Booki Vivat. Her new graphic novel is called "Frazzled." Thank you very much.

VIVAT: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.