You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2008.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley’s Journal

Kinney, Jeff

 

Amulet Books, New York. 2007. 217 p.

 

Sometimes I wonder if I have the taste of a 12 year old boy, or can I just really relate to them? This book doesn’t help matters at all.

 

Millions of people have read Diary of a Wimpy Kid by now, so I won’t be the first to say it I’m sure, but I love this book!!! Jeff Kinney is a genius!!!

 

It all started as an online comic strip, and once Kinney got a book deal, things took off for him and Greg Heffley.

 

Greg Heffley is pretty much like any guy you went to middle school with, except he’s probably a lot wittier for his age than any of those guys. He’s the middle child in a pretty average family and seems to be an average student, but it’s the way he tells you about his life and the way he handles situations that make him better than your average pre-teen.

 

His older brother, Rodrick, is in a garage band that plays (tries to play…?) heavy metal and he loves to torment Greg every way imaginable. Greg’s baby brother, Manny, is hilariously adorable, though part of me feels like he’s a little slow for his age. Then again, we have to remember this is all coming from Greg’s journal, so you never know the totally unbiased truth here.

 

Greg is by no means the most popular guy in sixth grade, (he says he’s probably the 52nd or 53rd most popular this year) but he does have one good friend, Rowley. Rowley is a little clueless at best, but for the most part he’s a dedicated friend to Greg and provides a good foil for him. Their friendship does have a bumpy patch when someone abuses his safety patrol position, but it all works out in the end.

 

Greg gives us a pretty accurate depiction of life as a sixth grade boy, from avoiding the dreaded “cheese touch,” to difficult girls, crazy teachers, video games, and wacky parental behavior. Greg experiences stuff that we all did in middle school, but couldn’t so cleverly put into words. The diary format with drawings really helps make this book accessible to kids who may otherwise avoid reading or see it as too dull or daunting. Hey, I enjoyed the drawings and I’m a college graduate.

 

This book quickly flew to the top of my favorites list, and I can’t wait to read the sequel Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules and the third book due out in January, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw. I implore you—read these books!

Pinky & Stinky

Kochalka, James

 

Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, GA. 2008. 204 p.

 

I can’t say how proud I am of juvenile graphic novels right now! Jellaby and Owly were stand-outs for me, and really opened my eyes to how great this form of book can be for any age group, but especially elementary and middle school readers who may prefer comic books to novels. It’s a happy medium that is truly happy (and perfect.) Now, I have read some duds, but I’m glad to say Pinky & Stinky stands out. It’s not as good as Jellaby, but it’s definitely a close relative of Owly and is pretty near to being on par with that series.

 

This adorable and witty book focuses on Pinky and Stinky, two astronaut pigs who are traveling through space. They make a good team, though sometimes it is hard to tell them apart because A) they’re two adorable pigs and B) their personalities are only slightly different. Pinky is slightly sweeter and more sensitive than Stinky is… or maybe that’s vice versa… anyway, I honestly don’t think it even matters who’s who. They’re both brave and moral pigs trying to do their country justice by traveling the solar system. They run into trouble when some human astronauts take offense to pigs bothering their important business. One of the astronauts kicks one of the pigs in delight and says, “Ha ha! Your fat jiggles!” Obviously not a nice guy! So the pigs and the astronauts cross paths later on in a world of moon creatures where they are all seen as enemies and sent away to an ice dungeon. The pigs, being adorable and sweet, are rescued by the alien princess and taken in as her “Cuties” to live on her bed with her stuffed animals (I assume those are stuffed…) The astronauts end up ruffling more feathers and battle ensues. The Cuties are saved and go on to make peace with everyone and continue on their space journey.

 

It’s a cute and clever book appropriate for kids 8 and up, though I think older people like me can appreciate more of the subtle humor. I don’t know if there will be a sequel or series of Pinky & Stinky books, but I guess one can only hope. They are cute pigs on a mission to warm your cockles, and it’s 100% mission accomplished with me.

Button, Button: uncanny stories

Matheson, Richard

 

Tor Books, New York. 2008. 208 p.

 

Well, I don’t know where to begin or end with this book. I will say my reading of it started out very promisingly. It came highly recommended from a co-worker who I thought had flawless taste in books, and when I heard this author wrote I Am Legend and the first story from this collection, “Button, Button” is going to be a major motion picture, I really thought it couldn’t be better. Maybe I was wrong.

 

The book is basically a written version of the Twilight Zone. These stories were originally published in the 1950s and 60s, so they definitely has the Zone feel about them. You know, twisted stories that start off mundane and become horrifying or plain bizarre. So at first I was intrigued and excited. I like a good suspense or thriller. Sadly, I fear this book contains much of either.

 

The collection begins with “Button, Button,” which had so much promise, but I was disappointed almost immediately because I knew exactly how the story was going to end. It may have been quite shocking back in the 50s, but nowadays, I feel like people have read or seen almost every twist imaginable. I still read the story, but I can’t say I did because I was intrigued. I just wanted to try and finish the book. (Note: I didn’t finish it. I hate to put a book up here that I didn’t even finish, but in a way I think it’s worth noting the book still, because maybe not being able to finish something is just as helpful of a review as one that raves about a book.)

 

The next story was not quite as predictable, but at a point you kind of know where it’s going. Again, it may have been ahead of its time 40 years ago, but I don’t think it carries as much punch now. It’s called “Girl of My Dreams” and follows a woman who has dreams of future happenings, usually involving total strangers who encounter terrible endings. Her husband exploits her abilities for money by finding the people whom she has dreamt about and tells them if they pay them, his wife will tell them how they meet their ends so they can avoid the situation. The husband is cold and mean to his wife, and only feigns affection so she will stay with him and continue sharing her dreams with him. Let’s just say, this story doesn’t end well for anybody.

 

So it was after this story that I was already a little tired of Matheson’s book. I was talking to some of my co-workers about the stories and my dissatisfaction, and one of them who had read a little further told me about one of the subsequent ones I hadn’t gotten to yet. After she told me the whole story, I remained unimpressed with the book, so I decided to give up ever finishing it. I usually finish books I begin, but with this one I felt like there is so much more to read out there, so why waste my time with this one. Part of me wants to finish, and I may someday, but if I’m going to be honest, this one just doesn’t do it for me. I’m interested to see what the movie version of “Button, Button” (it will be called “The Box” and it’s scheduled to come out in 2009) will be like, because to me it seems challenging to make a full length movie out of this premise, but hey, by 2009, I may have finished Button, Button and loved it.

Outside Beauty

Kadohata, Cynthia

 

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York. 2008. 265 p.

For a long time I never touched YA books. In school I had basically gone from juvenile to adult reading, and YA just got lost in the mix. Even working in the library wasn’t enough to make me want to read a YA book. I knew friends and colleagues who did, but it just didn’t interest me. I thought of YA as mostly chick lit filled with flirty romances and superficial issues. Well, I’ve proven myself wrong yet again with the latest book I’ve read, Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata. A lot of the books I’ve covered in this blog have been YA and I’m happy to say that. YA may have been only about teen romance and melodrama in the past, but it seems the new YA book being produced really deal with deeper issues that even adult readers can relate to.

Outside Beauty mainly tackles the issue of; guess what, beauty, in all of its forms. But it also deals with race, sexuality, and family in a very delicate and touching way. Our main character is Shelby, a twelve year old who has three other sisters: Maddie, who’s six; Lakey, who’s eight; and Marilyn, who’s fifteen. The catch here is, they all have different fathers. Their mother, Helen, is a beautiful Japanese woman who collects men the way young girls collect stickers or dolls. She is stunning and she knows it, and she can never stay in one relationship too long. All the girls live with their mother in an apartment in Chicago and get along incredibly well considering their diverse origins. Though the girls’ fathers are very different, once we meet them all we see why Helen fell in love, except for Maddie’s father, Mr. Bronson, who is a severe and rigid man, who does eventually prove to be human after all near the end of the novel.

The book opens in the summer of 1983 with Helen and her daughters running away from yet another man who has become too love sick for Helen’s taste. The ladies are off to visit Lakey’s father, Larry, who to me seems like the sweetest and most likable of all the fathers. He also seems to be the one Helen may still love. He obviously still has feelings for her, too, but he understandably wants Helen to settle down with him in California, something she may never be capable of doing with her personality. The girls are happy to be on another adventure with their mother, but really, their mother is always running from her problems rather than facing them, and that is her biggest issue throughout the book.

Things get complicated when Maddie’s aggressive and somewhat vindictive father Mr. Bronson starts threatening Helen for custody of Maddie. Helen doesn’t tell the girls too much of what’s going on, but it’s obvious this is a man with authority and money, and he may be able to beat Helen in this battle. Helen believes she can stay one step ahead of Mr. Bronson until she is involved in an unexpected (to the reader) accident and the lives of her four girls screech to a devastating halt.

Of the four girls, Shelby does seem like the best choice for the narrator, though Lakey seems like she would be a character I’d like to have learned more about. We get to know Marilyn and Maddie pretty well, but Lakey sometimes fades into the background. Shelby describes herself as quiet and shy, and she is. But the real reason she is the best narrator is because she is the one daughter who really sees that there is more to life and a person than outside beauty. Shelby is not the most glamorous or pretty of the girls, and this enables her to see the bigger picture and dream of a life without being judged by looks. It’s a world her mother and her sisters cannot imagine, but Shelby longs for. It seems by the end of the book that some of the characters have remained the same, but we have watched Shelby mature into an intelligent and pensive young girl who truly knows and understands herself, and probably the people around her better than they know themselves.