Monday, August 2

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

by Jeff Kinney
Amulet / Abrams 2009

The fourth book in the Wimpy Kid series continues with the misadventures of Greg Heffley trying to make it through the summer with as little effort and trauma as possible.  But if that happened there'd be no book...

After the initial blast of the first Wimpy Kid book, and the subsequent popularity, I sort of let the series go as one of those things that's good for a laugh not not, you know, something I felt obsessive about.  Like Charlie Brown and other cartoon creations, once you know who they are as characters you can pretty much guess their travails and it really becomes a question of individual limits.  I know one summer way back when I obsessively read every paperback that had the MAD magazine logo on it, followed by every Wizard of Id collection I could nab.  It's a kid thing, a summer thing, a perfectly solid way to wile away those dog days of late July and August.

Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley starts off by claiming that summer is nothing more than a three-month long guilt trip because while everyone else is outside he'd rather stay in playing video games.  Of course, everything Greg either attempts or is forced to do that takes him away from his game time supports his thinking that he'd be better off indoors and away from everyone.  Which, when you think about it, is a fairly stagnant place for a character to be; anti-social, unable to enjoy anything outside of himself, constantly finding nothing but misery about his situation.  Even his attempts to do something constructive  – start a lawn care company – is driven by his desire to make money to pay off a country club debt and nothing else.  Even when I was laying around reading comics I still had days where I schemed to make money and build massive tree forts that were structurally unsound.

Greg Heffley is a bit of a downer.

But that's what makes him work.  Kids recognize what a downer he is and laugh at him, not with him, in a way that sometimes borders on mean.  I think Kinney comes up with some great situations for mischief and misadventure, where readers can see with devilish glee what unsuspecting Greg is about to get himself into.  But after three books it isn't just wearing thin, its beginning to look like Greg might actually be suffering from sort of brain damage.  How else do you explain a character who, as the mock definition of insanity goes, keeps beating his head against the wall expecting a different result?  Maybe if the kid had something go right once in a while it would make all the other mishaps and screw-ups have more impact.

By now, these books are criticism- and review-proof.  Kids read them, and enjoy them, and despite being mislabeled as graphic novels (they aren't) are perfectly fine amusements. 
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