All’s Faire in Middle School
The much-anticipated new book by the author of Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson, similarly takes experience from her life to craft an appealing story for middle-school girls.
All’s Faire in Middle School is the story of Imogene, worried about entering middle school after being home-schooled. Complicating things is how involved her family is in the local Renaissance Faire. Dad plays a knight, while Mom runs a craft booth. Imogene has just begun training to be a squire, which makes her a real cast member, but she already knows that other kids may not understand her love of the faire.
Much like Roller Girl, the art here is basic, flat, and functional. The line weights are inconsistent, as is head size, and the panel layout is all simple blocks. There isn’t any impressive image; instead, the pictures get the job done, showing what’s happening with standard figure choices and simple groupings. The narration boxes and word balloons are often quite large, driving the storytelling.
Much like the art, the plot is workable, and you’ve likely seen a version of it before. Imogene first makes friends with a group of rich, popular girls, but she struggles with how they treat Anita, a smart girl who’s an outcast at school but fits in well at the faire. Then the group of mean girls turns on Imogene because she can’t afford new clothes.
“Learning to value real friendship and be true to yourself” is a familiar message but still resonant with the target audience, who are young enough that they haven’t seen it as many times as adult readers and who struggle themselves with chasing popularity. Imogene has the advantage of experience in a make-believe, pretend world, which helps her navigate the idea of different roles at school, with family, and with friends. She doesn’t feel “playing a character” is wrong, but it leads to her lying to her parents. Jamieson does a good job pointing out the difficulties of middle school, where you’re told to be an individual but dressing too differently means you won’t fit in, yet copying someone else’s fashion is bad too.
What will also appeal to many readers is learning more about what it’s like to live and work at a Renaissance Faire. Just as Roller Girl taught readers about roller derby, All’s Faire in Middle School works well as an enjoyable instructional read, sharing what someone else’s life and interests are like. And kids will love the Elizabethan insults, such as “Thou loggerheaded rump-fed giglet!”
Although I found this a mediocre example of comic craft, middle-grade girls who love Roller Girl and the books of Raina Telgemeier will adore having another lengthy graphic novel to enjoy.