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Review: Amelia Rules! True Things (Adults Don’t Want Kids to Know)

In the latest installment of Jimmy Gownley’s popular, tween-friendly series, Amelia McBride turns eleven, develops a crush on classmate Kyle, and struggles to improve the frayed relationship between her mother and her Aunt Tanner, who’s facing some personal hurdles of her own. Adding to the confusion is Amelia’s friend Rhonda, who vacillates between being a staunch ally and a major pain in the neck, teasing Amelia about her interest in Kyle and complaining about the burden of being a cheerleader. What’s a feisty, take-no-guff kind of gal to do?

Amelia Rules! True Things (Adults Don’t Want Kids to Know)
By Jimmy Gownley
Ages 7-12
October 2010, Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 978-1442410244
$10.99, 176 pp.

Elementary school readers will immediately identify with Amelia as she squabbles with her closest friends, anticipates stressful situations — will anyone actually attend her eleventh birthday party? — and agonizes over small social blunders. (In one hilarious scene, Amelia blurts out that she has “a real foot odor problem,” much to the amusement of Kyle and Rhonda.) Gownley brings a light, sure touch to the material, dramatizing Amelia’s internal monologues with energy and insight; he even makes that old chestnut of the falling dream seem fresh and funny with a cute, surreal spoof of Peter Pan. He also handles family dynamics with a similar mixture of frankness and humor, as Amelia attempts to referee arguments between her mother and aunt. Amelia is desperately worried that the sisters’ bond is irreparably damaged, but the only threat Amelia can muster is a future in which the sisters won’t be there to warn each other about… their smelly feet. (Foot odor is a recurring motif in True Things!)

What Gownley does best in True Things, however, is teach tweens that disappointment is a fundamental part of life. Kyle, for example, blows hot and cold, giving Amelia a thoughtful gift for her birthday, only to show up at the mall with another girl. By the end of the story, Amelia realizes that she doesn’t like Kyle enough to endure his flaky behavior — but not before she has a long, heartfelt conversation with Tanner about the intensity of her feelings for Kyle. Tanner, too, experiences some setbacks during True Things, nicely underscoring the point that coping with failure is a lifelong process, not a uniquely adolescent burden.

Gownley’s artwork may remind readers of Charles Schulz’s, as his characters’ round heads, tab ears, and comma-shaped eyes suggest the Peanuts gang. (Look carefully, and you’ll see that one of Amelia’s pals has the same ‘do as Peppermint Patty.) Gownley’s backgrounds are more detailed than Schulz’s ever were, however, and his characters’ range of emotions more comically exaggerated; Amelia’s reaction shots are priceless, capturing the fierce intensity of eleven-year-old scorn, frustration, and sadness. (No one glowers with the same tweenage authority as Amelia!)

Long-time readers are the obvious audience for True Things, though newcomers should be able to jump into the text without much difficulty. (New readers may wish to go back to the beginning of the series for more information about Amelia’s family situation, which isn’t fully explained in the latest volume.) Gownley’s smart, funny dialogue, appealing character designs, and gift for making tweenage emotions palpably real will appeal to a wide range of audiences. The fact that Amelia remains as capable, tough, and independent as ever — despite a few moments of Kyle-induced foolishness — makes this a particularly good choice for elementary school girls who are just beginning to navigate the minefield of frenemies and first crushes. Highly recommended.

This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.

Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

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