- Posted by Johanna on May 2, 2006 at 9:10 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Jimmy Gownley
- PUBLISHER: Renaissance Press; $14.95 US
These all-ages color stories about a girl and her group of friends are funny and touching with enough bite to keep them from being too “kiddy”. Amelia’s parents have just gotten divorced, and she and her mom have moved in with her Aunt Tanner. Like many kids, she sees herself as the only normal one, surrounded by crazy friends and relatives. She hangs out with a varied group of misfits — some of whom really are weird, like Pajamaman, a kid who never speaks or changes out of his sleepwear — to avoid thinking about the trauma she’s facing at home.
Story topics include typical kid activities, like getting distracted by quibbles while trying to watch TV or play freeze tag, or how gross being sick can be. When Amelia’s at school, somehow, everything goes wrong and she always winds up being the one sent to the principal’s office.
This book also includes the best Christmas story I’ve ever read. It’s got funny parts and sad parts and inspiring parts and all-too-real parts told in such a way that it becomes timeless. The story takes place in the shadow of September 11th without being overwhelmed by it, quite an artistic feat. Gownley wraps all of his storytelling strengths into a straightforward story that still captures all the many facets of Christmas: gifts, traditions, shopping mall Santas, an increasingly cynical world, family, and thinking more about others than yourself. A lot of people are melancholy around the holidays because they can’t live up to the expectations. This story acknowledges that feeling while showing the reader just why people hope there can be more. It’s not too fantastic, which is what gives it its power. It’s because it’s so well-grounded in reality that it works so well on all the other levels.
The final story gets to the heart of Amelia’s pain. She and her father are supposed to go camping together. He invites her friends to join them as a pleasant surprise for her, but she resents having to share him since she sees him so little otherwise. The only way she knows to show how she’s feeling is to pout; she wants everyone else to feel as bad as she does. How can you not appreciate a story with the message “everyone’s a jerk sometimes”?
Gownley’s characters are well-designed, with a simplicity that suits them. They have friendly faces, and the cartooning is kept simple, easily readable for all ages. Pajamaman, especially, is well-used; he wouldn’t work if he had more focus, but as a supporting character, he provides the perfect joke or adds a great background gag. Amelia’s a smart aleck, as intelligent kids can be, but her wisecracks are actually funny as well as full of attitude.
Flexible panel boundaries are often exceeded by word balloons and character actions, or the panels are simply left open, giving the book an active, welcoming feel. The lettering and balloon styles are creative and imaginative, using the color to great effect to punctuate the scenes. Pages are full of movement to keep the story going; even the monologues take place while opening a window, walking down a hall, or dressing up for an adventure.
These kids are real. That means that sometimes they’re evil, greedy, and self-centered. Sometimes they don’t understand or see things that are obvious to us, and when they do notice, it’s the biggest thing in the world to them. That vision is an eye-opener for the reader, and Gownley is a genius at capturing their perspective. These kids are realistic while still being sympathetic and funny.
There is an Amelia Rules! website.