With this review I pull into sharp focus the essential difference that lies between a professional reviewer and a doofus like myself who throws ideas up onto a blog in a vaguely reviewerish format. When the state of the book blog went from being perceived as a mildly amusing pastime to OH MY GOD THEY’RE GOING TO KILL ALL THE NEWSPAPER REVIEWS!!! suddenly everyone (i.e. print reviewers) was questioning the legitimacy of this new format. A blogger reviews without an editor. What they think, they say. And then, of course, there’s the question of getting a little too cozy with the authors you’re supposed to be critiquing. This isn’t a new criticism. A reviewer for The New York Times that hobnobs at a book opening is just as suspect as a blogger, the only difference being that a blogger will tell you about the party and a print reviewer probably won’t.
About this time you’re skimming the rest of this review so as to figure out what the heck all this has to do with as light-hearted and fun a book as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules”. Well, do you have a copy on hand right now? Great. Do me a favor and go to the last page. The Acknowledgments section, if you will. Okay, now look at that last paragraph before the About the Author part. Skim the names. See anyone familiar? I sure as heck did because that’s my name staring back at me again. Staring at me because I thought that the first “Wimpy Kid” book was magnificent and I promoted it heavily amongst my library patrons (not that it needed much help). Mr. Kinney was nice enough to ask if I’d mind being mentioned in the second book and egocentric critter that I am, I gave him an enthusiastic YES!
Ah. So now it’s all coming together for you, isn’t it? Here I am with a beautiful blue book, my name on the very last page, and I’m supposed to be some uninterested observer who is going to be able to critique this book fairly? Fat chance, bub! On the other hand, I honestly did like the book. Thought it deserved some notice. But I am of the opinion that if you’re going to read a blog book reviewer then they need to be as open and honest with you as humanly possible right from the start. So attention book lovers – my friggin’ name is in the back of this friggin’ book. If you think that makes me unqualified to review it, stop reading me right now and go work on your macramé. I like reviewing, but I ain’t gonna pull a fast one on you here.
When last we saw our hero Greg Heffley he had survived everything from cursed cheese to an unfortunate stage debut. Not that much has changed in his life, of course. He’s still a perpetual victim of his older brother Rodrick’s crazy schemes and his younger brother Manny’s three-year-old excesses. Greg might have to do what Rodrick says for a while too since his older brother knows something terrible, HORRIBLE even, that happened to Greg over the summer and he’s threatening to tell the world. And though Greg might try to participate in everything from role-playing to writing his comic strip to forget it, eventually that sword of Damocles is going to fall. It’s just a matter of time.
Most books in which the older brother is portrayed as a lazy villain end with that same brother protecting or sticking up for their younger sibling by the story’s end. It’s the kind of thing that reassures kids that no matter how awful their siblings are, blood is thicker than water, yadda yadda yadda. This happens a little in real life, but more often than not you get a situation like the one in this book. One brother is deep in his teen years and is willing to take advantage of his little sib by any means necessary. I remember some criticism of the previous “Wimpy Kid” book that complained that Greg never feels regret for the bad things he does. This isn’t really a book with a regret format, though. It’s humorous, sure, but if you’re looking for a perfect mirrored reflection of real life, seek elsewhere.
Kinney is almost eerily good at writing material that is as funny to kids as it is to adults. I haven’t yet discussed this book with someone who doesn’t know how the game Dungeons and Dragons works, so I wonder if a D&D newbie would find the game in which Greg’s mom joins (calling her character “Mom”) as funny as I did. For a sequel, there’s a lot of new stuff in this book as well. We finally get a chance to see Loded Diper (Rodrick’s band) play. We see Manny enter preschool on Halloween Day with disastrous results. And then there’s the Mom Bucks program instituted by Greg’s mother. That one sounded a little too real to have been made up, though.
You could probably use these books in class to discuss the concept of the “unreliable narrator” because at a certain point, Greg’s life is what every pre-teen to teen boy feels like his own life is. Everybody gets away with stuff except for you. Parents are too nerdy or out-of-it to be of any use, friends are unreliable, and the world is a scary place where your unique skills are not recognized. You get the distinct feeling that Greg might be exaggerating some of the events in his life, but that’s not a bad thing. That said, it’s hard not to feel vindicated when Rodrick finally has something bad happen to him at the end of the book. Who knew that YouTube can be the ultimate high school equalizer! It brings adolescent embarrassment to a whole new level.
There are a lot of familiar callbacks, of course. Fights with best friend Rowley, for example. And I was very sad to find that one of my favorite characters, Fregley, didn’t make an appearance in this sequel. Still, it all basically comes down to this: If you like the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” then you will like the second. Maybe it doesn’t carry the surprise of the first book, but what sequel does? Thoroughly enjoyable and unrepentantly hilarious.
On shelves January 15th.
Notes on the Cover: Designer Chad Beckerman is the brains behind this one. I’m loving the primary colors here. If there are going to be five books in the series (I heard that somewhere) then my money’s on yellow for book three. Place your bets now, folks.