by Kiyohiko Azuma
In this volume, Yotsuba plays with her dad, learns how to make pancakes, and gets a visit from an old friend. I managed to ration the stories in this volume over three whole sittings! Although the genre is “slice of life,” the first story feels more aimless than usual and made me worry that the series was losing its charm. However, the second story–“Yotsuba & Pancakes!”–is the funniest instalment of Yotsuba&! yet, surpassing even “Yotsuba & No Bother!” (and you may remember how dearly I love that chapter). The rest of the chapters in this volume are decent, some eliciting more laughs than others, as per usual. As much as I loved the pancakes story, some of the other chapters are only just okay, and the funnier ones depend on the reader having already been acquainted with the characters.
Recommended for those who have already read some of the series, although the pancakes episode may win over some new fans.
by Libba Bray
When a plane full of beauty queens headed for the final leg of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant crashes on an island in the Atlantic, all but 13 of the contestants perish. All of the stranded girls have their own priorities: Miss New Hampshire wants to figure out how to survive on the island, Miss Texas wants to continue to practice for the competition, Miss Rhode Island needs to find her medication, and Miss New Mexico has to figure out a new hairstyle that will distract from the airline tray stuck in her forehead. Surviving the elements is the first challenge, but the girls will have to learn to love and respect themselves and each other in order to make it through the trials that await them on the island. While the beginning of the story focuses on the skeptical Miss New Hampshire (Adina Greenberg), we get to see each of the contestants’ thoughts and backstories as the book goes on. The story is occasionally interrupted by commercial breaks, and includes product placement footnotes from our sponsor, The Corporation.
I was pleasantly surprised that this book was actually overtly feminist. It’s a satire, so it gets a lot of flak for having characters who are just stereotypes, but Bray turns a lot of the stereotypes on their heads. There are a lot of characters who never get a name beyond Miss [state], but even this gets some tongue-in-cheek attention near the end of the book. For a story with such overt political messages, it is shockingly funny! Even though the characters discuss some complex political issues, the book avoids a didactic after-school special directness by staging these conversations in settings that would be either realistically appropriate for such conversations or hilariously inappropriate for them. Of course a group of beauty pageant contestants would discuss Feminism 101 over campfire. And a backstory about colonialism is totally pillow talk material before oral sex! But, race politics while sinking in quicksand? Well, that’s just awesome. While the book sort of spirals out of logical control in the last quarter, none of the messages are lost in the chaos, and it’s still pretty funny. There are some glaring plot holes, of course, but I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief for what I got in return: a socially responsible survival satire starring a group of kick-ass ladies.
Recommended for mature teens who are comfortable enough with reading non-descriptive sex scenes. Ideal for teens who are interested in social issues, but funny enough to be enjoyed by teens looking for something silly.
by Jeff Kinney
This installment of Wimpy Kid features a great many things, including but not limited to Christmas stress, school property vandalism, e-pets, a creepy lost doll, and, as always, a few cockamamie schemes of Greg’s to make money with minimal effort.
Of all the Wimpy Kid books, this one is the least cohesive. Yes, the other books go on a number of humourous tangents, but this one is pretty much all tangent, to the point where the plot as described on the back of the book doesn’t actually happen until the last twenty pages. There are some really funny parts and it is an enjoyable read, but it gets off to a rough start mostly because Greg seems so much younger than a middle school student. He believes in Santa, and it’s not even framed as a funny thing he hasn’t outgrown. Plus, his school–supposedly a middle school–has playground equipment. Both of these details distracted me and had me wondering if middle school starts in grade three in some states. It felt like these parts were targeted at the 7-year-olds reading the books, which can only detract from how cool these books are to their original audience of early middle schoolers. This audience shift, along with the general lack of plot makes me worry that the series is fading.
Still recommended to fans of the series, and it’s probably the most accessible of all of the books for a much younger audience. I wouldn’t recommend it as the one you give to another adult when you’re trying to convince them how funny the series is.
by Amy Ignatow
Done in the diary style of Wimpy Kid, The Popularity Papers reports the story of two fifth graders, Lydia and Julie, trying to figure out how to become popular. They start by observing the popular kids, then they try to dye their hair, dress like a grown-up, and do popular activities. They both find ways to infiltrate the popular group, but what will it mean for their friendship? The story is told by both Lydia and Julie, alternating between neat printing with great drawings and cursive writing with stick drawings.
I enjoyed this book well enough, but it seemed odd to me that they were supposed to be in 5th grade. 7th would have made a lot more sense. Even though it follows a pretty familiar story arc and includes an afterschool special-esque “diverse” cast of characters, it doesn’t get didactic. I personally don’t understand characters whose goal is to become popular because it isn’t a goal I have ever heard a kid or teen express, and it certainly was never the goal of anyone I knew growing up. I’m not exactly sure any kids actually outwardly express a desire to be popular in real life, but it is a trope we are all used to seeing in stuff made for this age group, so this book is relatable via popular culture tropes, if not via anyone’s own experiences. Lydia and Julie are both likeable and funny, the subject matter is enjoyably light, and the story is palatable enough. Surprisingly good for something I thought would just be another Wimpy Kid knock-off.
I’d recommend it to fans of Wimpy Kid, but I’m not sure if it would appeal as much to boys. Maybe if they’re desperate for a funny book with lots of illustrations for a book report, but it’s pretty intentionally girly. The characters are supposed to be 10, but I’d give it to kids aged 8-12.
by Wendelin Van Draanen
Juli has liked Bryce since she first laid eyes on him when they were 7 and he moved in across the street from her. Bryce thinks she’s super annoying and weird, and tries for years to get away from her, until he takes a second look at her and realizes she’s amazing. By this time, Juli has come to the conclusion that Bryce is a coward and a jerk.
The story is narrated in turns by Bryce and Juli. You get to see how differently both of them see the same situation, and you can start to see when they both start seeing each other differently too.
The only problem I had with this book was the weird way in which Juli’s family acted toward her father’s brother, who suffered brain damage when he was a baby. Juli’s dad tells her to keep him a secret because kids will make fun of her for having someone mentally challenged in her family. She is 13 and has never even met her uncle, even though her father visits him regularly. This is all presented as normal, and Juli’s family is supposed to be seen as hard-done-by because they have a soft spot for this dirty little secret of a relative. Not a great representation, especially for a book published this century.
Still, it’s one of the only books you can give to a parent who wants their teen to read something “clean”. It’s a nice enough read and a lot of teens genuinely enjoy it.