Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth
My ten-year-old son, Elliott, has several distinct laughs in his repertoire, each precisely tuned to the subtleties of the situation. An under-the-breath snicker connotes mild amusement, like the punchline to a Laffy Taffy joke; a nasal, high-pitched giggle is a response to inspired silliness, like a Calvin & Hobbes comic strip; a deep, hiccuping guffaw from his lower belly signifies his highest level of appreciation, and is usually reserved for gags involving bodily functions. I heard all three laughs, and a few new ones, in the sixty minutes it took him to devour Jeff Kinney's The Ugly Truth, the fifth installment in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Elliott's speed in this case is due not only to his considerable reading talent but the fact that the book is half-text, half-cartoon. The latter are rendered in the kind of primitive stickfigures that one would expect in the diary of a less-than-macho middle-schooler like Greg Heffley, the series' titular hero. Though I enjoyed the book, it took me considerably longer to read, as the Wimpy Kid phenomenon is not one that holds great appeal for Gen X moms who were once uptight English majors. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, yes—Twilight and Wimpy Kid, not so much. I spent the first third of the book trying to decipher which stickfigure was Greg, his older brother Rodrick, or his former best friend Rowley, and whether any of this information was actually pertinent to the book's thin plot, concerning Greg's struggle to accept the inevitability of growing up.
Author and artist Kinney nails many of the particular agonies of preteendom, especially the realization that the cute years are over. “When you're a little kid, nobody even warns you that you've got an expiration date,” he notes. “One day you're hot stuff and the next day you're a dirt sandwich.” Greg's mom doesn't help things when she gives him a book titled “What the Heck Just Happened to My Body?” Unfortunately for Greg, nothing has happened—even nerdy Rowley has had his first pimple. Eventually, his parents break the news that both were late bloomers. “That was REALLY bad news,” Greg says. “In this country they're always saying you can grow up and be anything you want, but now I realize that's not true.” Spoken like the original wimpy kid, that prep school dropout Holden Caulfield.
I asked my own decidedly prepubescent kid what he thought of the book. What follows is the complete transcript of our discussion.
Mom: I'm writing my review of new Wimpy Kid book. Can you tell me what you thought of it?
Elliott: It was really good.
Mom: Anything else?
Elliott: It was really funny.
Mom: What parts did you like the best?
Elliott: Well, duh. The funny parts.
Mom: Can you be more specific?
At this point he grabbed the book, curled up on the couch, and his cycles of laughter resumed. His endorsement was clear.