Amelia Rules! Returns With The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular and True Things (Adults Don’t Want Kids to Know)
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we’ve seen any new Amelia Rules! stories, but that’s how long ago the series was picked up by Simon & Schuster for graphic novel reprinting. They rereleased the first four books by Jimmy Gownley,
before putting out the first original Amelia Rules! graphic novel. I’d forgotten how much I missed new adventures with this spirited young lady learning about life in unique ways.
The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular
The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular came out in April. To my eyes, its roots in serialization can be seen in the early part of the book, with episodic chapters, but by the end, Gownley seems more comfortable with the bigger canvas.
The concept is pure Gownley through-and-through, though. It’s rare to see such an honest portrayal of growing up. His realistic view of how miserable childhood can be — and how to get through it with friends, imagination, and humor — is encapsulated in the concept that gives this book its name. Amelia’s friend Rhonda has acquired a self-help book of the same title that prepares its readers to settle for their mediocre social standing. Anyone who would buy the book-within-a-book is obviously a loser, so the author starts out by encouraging them to aim not too high. They can’t be popular, but maybe they can avoid being unpopular while staying average.
That kind of unvarnished portrayal of kiddom is what gives Amelia Rules! its comedy and appeal to youngsters (and those who remember what childhood was like). The normal outcome of a story about wanting to be popular is a character learning a lesson about how wanting popularity is shallow, about how all that matters is to be true to yourself. But that’s nicely demolished by Amelia here. She and a friend actually have that conversation, only to end it by wondering “what if the ‘yourself’ you’re being true to is a complete and total JERK?”
Since the beginning of the series, Rhonda’s gone from rival to sympathetic friend, and this is as much her story as Amelia’s. I quite enjoyed her fruit pun-filled “Passion Fruit” play, and then to see her made fun of for her creativity by the interchangeable blondies … it was so real and so hurtful. Rhonda has come up with a clever idea for a social studies skit, partnered with Amelia, but even though the class and the teacher are entertained, once the boring blondes make fun of it, everyone’s too concerned with fitting in to remember that they liked it.
Of course, it’s really Gownley’s imagination that brings all this to us. I especially appreciate the unique way he uses the comic format. His enthusiastic lettering really captures tone and emotion, plus he throws in flourishes. For example, when a mad Rhonda mutters about “wanting to do something Gothic to them”, the older reader knows what Gothic means, as well as appreciating that that word is lettered in an old English font suitable to the alternate meaning of the term. Or more obviously, the way the social outcasts are colored in black-and-white, fading them out against the more colorful class. Or how a flashback is a cascade of reproduced pages from earlier in the book. Or how Aunt Tanner’s story of her teen years looks just like an Archie comic.
The overall message here, instead of worrying about popularity, is to enjoy the fun of being your age and not worrying about acting all mature and sophisticated. Even though Amelia sometimes does the most adult things of all.
True Things (Adults Don’t Want Kids to Know)
The second new book, True Things (Adults Dont Want Kids to Know), is sixth in the series overall. It’s due out in both hardcover and paperback in October. In it, Amelia turns 11, and her family throws her a birthday party. Plus, Tanner ponders about getting back into music. (Tanner’s my favorite. I love her honesty and her talent and how different an adult female comic character she is.)
The best “true thing” in this book is something Amelia learned from the counselor she saw when her parents were first splitting up: “Sometimes a thing is broken so badly, there’s just no way to put it back together.” A good lesson for a kid (especially one into fiction enough to enjoy this series) is to learn that not everything is fixable. Decisions have consequences and you have to go forward, not back.
And this book is full of that movement, as characters make major life decisions and Amelia finds out what it’s like to have her heart broken. It’s a major turning point for the series, as Gownley sets up changes to allow him to do different kinds of stories for future volumes.
I can’t talk as much about the artistic effects in this one because, while the publisher provided review copies, this one is an advance in black and white. So much of Gownley’s magic comes through in the final, softly colored pages. I did particularly like the quotes by Tanner that punctuate the chapters, though.