This review and author spotlight series is part of the #HarperChildrensFestivalList reviews by Kidskintha.
The Secret Life of Debbie G is a coming-of-age graphic novel that follows the life of 16-year-old Soundarya. Soundarya hails from a South Indian family and attends a posh school in New Delhi, who changed her name to sound cool. Her life as a plus-sized teen struggling to keep up her self-esteem by embracing her curves and internal conflicts is turned around when she becomes an overnight sensation and a roller-coaster begins as she struggles to balance her digital alter ego and her real life.
Written by Vibha Batra, ‘The Secret Life of Debbie G’ captures both the spirit of adolescence in today’s times of contradictions and the wild edge of a graphic novel. The illustrations rendered by Kalyani Ganapathy succeed in lending a unique personality to Debbie. What I loved about the novel was how the teen is faced with and processes the emotional issues surrounding her life- including sensitive subjects like the love life of her mom, and her struggle to accept the new man in their lives.
Vibha’s book was a pick for the Harper Collins Children’s Festival List 2020. It was the only graphic novel that made it to the list. The quirky writing style(evident in the interview below) lends a humorous bent and spontaneous sarcasm to the angst of teen life.
We had a little chat with the author Vibha. Read on for some fun. I loved her responses…check out for yourself!
KK: How did you arrive at the idea of a graphic novel? And how did you conceptualize the character of Debbie? Why a Young adult novel?
Vibha: Clubbing the two questions. It all started when my editor asked me if I’d write a graphic novel for young adults. I replied, ‘Yes! Of course! Right away!’ with all the confidence of someone who’s never written a graphic novel before. And then, I dived headlong into the world of comic books and graphic novels. At some point I realized I had to do away with the ‘But I’m bingeing on them for research’ excuse and get down to writing. Had no idea how to write a graphic novel, so that bit was fairly challenging. But now, I’m truly madly deeply hooked. Have written two more. And can’t wait to come up with more.
At some point I realized I had to do away with the ‘But I’m bingeing on them for research’ excuse and get down to writing. Had no idea how to write a graphic novel, so that bit was fairly challenging. But now, I’m truly madly deeply hooked- Vibha Batra, Author- The Secret Life Of Debbie G.
KK: The book epitomizes the life of today’s social media netizens but also touches on very sensitive points like Debbie’s mom’s love life. Tell us the process of blending those elements in.
Vibha: I wanted to explore certain themes, touch upon pertinent issues, without being preachy about them. Because the minute people start doling out gyaan, I find myself tuning out. I certainly didn’t want, god forbid, my readers doing that.
The Evolution of Debbie G
KK: In the case of a full-length book, it’s all writing and editing. For a graphic novel, it’s a lot more pieces –
illustrations, writings, etc. How did the entire process look, fitting in so many pieces together?
Vibha: Here’s how the process went: My editor commissioned me to write the graphic novel. I bounced off a couple of ideas of her. She liked this one best. I worked on a couple of drafts. When the final draft (that we both did a happy dance for) was done, she commissioned an illustrator. And voila! Kalyani Ganapathy, my super-brilliant C-in-C (Collaborator- in-Crime), came on board.
KK: When do you usually work on your books, because you are also an entrepreneur? How many hours a day do you write?
Vibha: Good question. I have a day job (advertising) and a full-time job (a toddler). So a typical day is a mad whirl of obsessing over the color/consistency/frequency of poop (the baby’s, that is), battling hunger pangs (my own), apportioning blame for everything (the hubby), writing furiously (only in my head), assuring account executives at the ad agency (“Am sending the copy any minute now”), gaping at celebs on Instagram (“Will scroll for five minutes, just five minutes”). To answer the question: no fixed hours.
KK: Ha ha! How long did Debbie G take from concept to shelf?
Vibha: Two and a half years. Yeah, it took that long. Had no idea I could that patient. ☺
KK: If you were to google yourself, what would you like to see?
Vibha: Love this question. ONLY five-star ratings, gushing reviews, and glowing recommendations for my books. Yup, not greedy at all.
KK: Who is your inspiration as a writer?
Vibha: My maternal grandfather, the late Shri Vishnu Kant Shastri. He was an academic, Sanskrit scholar, and prolific writer. I grew up reading his memoirs, travelogues, and poetry. My all-time favorites. When he passed away, I decided to translate his book on the Ishaavaasya Upanishad into English. It was published by Rupa in 2007. So, yeah, let’s blame the writing habit on the genes, shall we?
KK: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Vibha: On every book that I’ve ever bought (including, ahem, my own).
KK: What does literary success look like to you?
Vibha: Watching something that had existed only in my head come alive.
KK: What are you working on right now?
Vibha: Editing a book, fretting over another, dreaming up more stories.
KK: A few words about Kidskintha?
Vibha: Great job raising parents and kids alike, Team K! Stay kidskintastic!
‘The Secret Life Of Debbie G’ is available on Amazon and all major bookstores.