Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid documents middle school pretty accurately. Or, at least, it offers a personal spin on some important moments, and those moments are just as I remember them. The lens of a middle school girl is, of course, very different, but he covers the stressful moment of choosing a seat on the first day of class and the minor victory of having a new teacher, as well as the baffling nature of popularity rankings, with accuracy and gusto. Kinney’s accompanying drawings definitely also added something to the humor that would otherwise have been impossible to convey. This comic-turned-novel captured all the best parts of talking to kids. They think they’re funny when they aren’t (e.g. when Greg and his friends laugh at kid with the initials “P.U.”) and they’re hilarious when they don’t try (e.g. when Greg tells us that he’s been interested in girls forever, and it’s not fair that the social dynamics have changed). Kids never quite match our expectations, and Kinney keeps this incongruous quality preserved. His illustrations and language are apt and I can easily see why this book was recommended to me both by a female college-aged roommate and by an eight-year-old boy whom I babysit. The two cited different aspects of the book as amusing, but that makes perfect sense. The latter understands all the opinions and tragic situations in which Greg finds himself, and my roommate sees the ridiculous-taken-seriously in Greg.
The Greg in this novel is completely self-centered, and doesn’t care much for the trials of other people. He mentions his neighbor, shipped off to military school, with hardly a thought, he successfully humiliates P.U., is horrified at his best friend’s personal stupidity and thinks his personal popularity is the most important thing in the world. Greg is constantly categorizing people in his head as “popular,” or “smart,” or “nerdy,” and desires nothing more than superiority over his peers. Some of the intended humor in this books is certainly grounded in superiority theory, as when Greg plays the most classic pranks on Rowley, but there is more to it than that. Greg is certainly childish and is himself a type, which point his animation drives home. However, I grant him some leeway because he is in the process of becoming a functioning member of society, figuring out just what it takes to get along in the world. This is a painful process, as anyone ought to remember, and discovering just what “type” of person you are is the whole point.