Norwegian Show Skam is Inspiring Us to Read More LGBTQ-Themed Books
A few months ago on Tumblr, I started to notice that everyone kept posting about the same show: Skam. And when I say “posting about,” what I really mean is “intensely obsessing over to extreme degrees.” A Norwegian teen show, Skam, is part web series, part TV show, with events during the current season happening in real time. Meaning that online segments are released at random during the week and then are compiled into a short episode that ranges from 15 to 40 minutes. Also, each season follows one specific character, diving into their home life and love life and telling one complete story over the course of 10-12 episodes. (For a complete cheat sheet, Vulture did an awesome guide a few months ago!)
Needless to say, I was intrigued. I hunted down the English subtitles and got to work. It took me about a week to get through all three seasons. Basically, I ate, lived and breathed Skam. AND, O.M.G. IT IS SO GOOD. Translated to mean ‘Shame,’ Skam is as if Skins and My So Called Life had a more realistic baby. But still funny. And fresh. And generally awesome. Skam feels like it’s about real teens living real lives with all the messiness, confusion, happiness and heartbreak that comes with it. Trust me, this is one show that you do not want to miss. And while it’s a little difficult to find English subs for every episode, it’s most definitely worth diving into those secret corners of the internet.
The first season follows Eva (Lisa Teige) as she navigates high school, her female friendships, and her romance with Jonas (Marlon Langeland). Season 2 follows Eva’s more feminist-minded friend Noora (Josefina Frida Pettersen) and her complicated love life with the popular William (Thomas Hayes). The third season, which just ended in December, focuses on Isak (Tarjei Sandvik Moe), a gay character who falls in love with Even (Henrik Holm).
Season 4 is currently airing, and this time around the main character Sana (Iman Meskini), who has been one of my favorites from the start. Wise, a little irreverent and low-key hilarious, Sana is the perfect character to focus on – especially since this is the final season ever (sob!).
It’s rare that we see a Muslim main character on any mainstream show, which is just another reason that Skam is one of the best shows out there. And I’m not alone in thinking this, as it isn’t just the world of Tumblr that’s obsessed with Skam. There’s an American reboot in the works that will hopefully stay as raw as the Norwegian version, pushing the boundaries of what we consider a teen show. Though I’m sure some of the magic will be lost as part of the fun is learning the ins-and-outs of Norwegian culture, like Russ and Norwegian Constitution Day.
Overall, I think I like the second season the best. Or maybe the first. No, wait, the third? I’ve only seen the first episode of season four, but it’s already awesome. Honestly, I just can’t decide. But while each season has its own magic, there is something about the third that feels both revolutionary and important. How many American teen shows have a homosexual main character, giving just as much thoughtful screen time to his love story?
In honor of Isak’s third season, I rounded up four novels with LGBTQ themes that match the honesty and realism of Skam:
We Are Okay, Nina LaCour (Dutton Books for Young Readers, February 14, 2017)
It’s not easy to write a novel that’s almost entirely inside a character’s head, but LaCour more than succeeds with We Are Okay. A young adult novel about loneliness, grief and friendship, Marin is a college freshman who decides to spend her winter break alone in her dorm rather than go home to San Francisco. Her best friend, Mabel, comes to visit, forcing Marin to confront the real reason she left home and isolated herself in upstate New York. Through Marin’s rich internal life, we learn about her past and the tragedy that sent her running. We also learn more about the girls’ friendship, as Marin works through her own complicated feelings about her sexuality. Any fan of Skam would be drawn to this moody, deeply emotional coming-of-age story.
No one is more honest or hilarious than David Sedaris, and his nonfiction essays have been delighting the world for years. Now he’s diving even deeper into his past, publishing his actual diaries from the collection he’s kept for 40 years. Peppered with Sedaris’ dry wit and engaging storytelling style, his diaries include life events, observations he’s made about the world, and even things he’s overheard that have stuck with him. To quote his book blurb, “this is the first-person account of how a drug-abusing dropout with a weakness for the International House of Pancakes and a chronic inability to hold down a real job became one of the funniest people on the planet.” I’ve always been a huge fan of Sedaris’ work, and while he’s well out of his teen years, his honesty and openness are sure to appeal to anyone who appreciates a well-told story, much like each season of Skam.
Silvera’s young adult novel tells the story of Griffin, a teen who suffers from OCD and who always assumed he would eventually end up back together with his first love, Theo. But when Theo suddenly dies in a tragic accident, Griffin is lost in grief and left with no idea how his future will look. Despite connecting with Theo’s current boyfriend, Jackson, Griffin’s obsessive compulsions and dark thoughts threaten to take him over. In order to find peace, Griffin has to face some harsh realities about himself, Theo, and the relationship that he romanticized from the start. Alternating between the present and past, this is a story about love and grief and finally growing up. Silvera definitely delivers that same thoughtful look at teen life that Skam has become known for across worldwide.
The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker (Random House, January 31, 2017)
Friendship gets tested in Whitaker’s novel about two artists, Mel and Sharon, who meet in college and become instant friends as well as collaborators. Years later and their first comic is finally being released, based on Mel’s troubled past. Despite their similar upbringings and their mutual love of art, the friends are total opposites: Mel is bold, outgoing and interested in women, while Sharon is reserved, quiet and straight. But it’s not until their comic becomes successful that their friendship is truly tested. Neither of the women react to potential fame in a healthy way, and the two friends have to confront some hard truths about their past as they face an unknown future. Skam also explores deep friendships and how they evolve and change overtime, which is why The Animators is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the teen show.