Does middle school even still exist? It seems like a torment from a bygone age, like the Spanish Inquisition. No one with good sense looks back on middle school fondly, and Monica Gallagher captures the deep existential dread that would result from the most trivial matters so expertly in her brief Middle School minicomic. From the pop culture references on the cover (an MC Hammer CD, an industrial-size bottle of hairspray), I’m guessing that Gallagher and I are around the same age, which makes her tale hit close to home personally, but c’mon, adolescent trauma is universal.
The story is that Gallagher’s middle school, in an innovation that makes my stomach hurt just reading about it, sent sixth graders to an “outdoor education” camp at the beginning of the school year to… I don’t know, break their spirit fully right off the bat? It is there that this comic begins, a tangle of self-doubt, life-or-death decisions, all-consuming infatuations, and an ironclad social hierarchy. It’s hilarious and cringe-inducing in equal doses. The art is assured and captures the essential awkwardness of everyone involved. And whaddya know? Is that an almost happy ending? Can’t be….