Thursday, March 15, 2012

GN Review -- Amelia Rules! The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular / Jimmy Gownley

I remember uncertainty being a huge part of my life when I was approaching the years leading into middle school.  Life tends to be that way, often juxtaposing what we'd like to have or be with the reality that we're almost always a far cry from attaining it.  When you factor in the additional realization that you're far from adulthood, and therefore even less in control of things than they are, that uncertainty can be a daunting thing indeed.  It translates into a quest for the ever-elusive thing called popularity in this chapter of Jimmy Gownley's Amelia Rules! series, The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular.

Beginning with a scene in which Amelia and her friend Rhonda are on the run, wearing space suits and caught up in a tree by an angry mob of their classmates, the story tells of Amelia and her group of friends' various and frequent attempts to navigate the uncertainties and fleeting nature of image and popularity at their elementary school.  In trying to simply stay off the radar and not become unpopular, however, a series of makeovers, tryouts, and various social triumphs and faux pas raise many questions about the importance of popularity.  Some of these exploits are referred to in The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular, a fictitious book Rhonda reads and distributes to Amelia in the hopes of keeping their heads above water, socially.  Readers will encounter snooty cheerleaders, judgmental principals, and some all too memorable social outcasts of all stripes, whether they knew them or were them.

In typically amusing and poignant fashion, Jimmy Gownley has crafted an enjoyable about a girl who is, at the end of the day, simply trying to figure out life since her parents' divorce and her subsequent relocation to small-town Pennsylvania from city life in Manhattan.  She's a charming, tomboyish, almost unbelievably witty character, with hopes, dreams, flaws and fears that make her very relatable to younger readers.  Her directness and smart-aleck nature make her an alternately enduring and hard-to-take girl whose appeal will be undeniable to her readers.

Her friends and supporting cast are an amusing and likable collection of pals, each with their own quirks and memorable personalities, who enhance and complicate Amelia's life in various ways.  Her Aunt Tanner is a former rock and roll star, whose youth and rebelliousness belie her wisdom and make her a close confidante for Amelia.  Reggie is your typical boy at that age, likable and well-meaning, but a little oblivious and often given to flights of fancy (particularly if they involve superhero costumes).  These and other well written characters will amuse and delight readers as they wend their way through a plot that will cause laugh out loud moments as well as points of genuine emotion, even if it doesn't exactly flow chronologically.

Gownley's art style is simple and cartoonish, but thoroughly pleasant to behold.  His line work is clean, and he uses the expressive possibilities of his style to their full extent, which, combined with his witty scripting and plotting, makes for some memorable visuals.  He can jump from playful to serious in a single panel, with just a few simple alterations of his line work, and make it look easy.  This kind of versatility is just one of several factors that makes these stories so enjoyable, and undoubtedly helps make this series so successful.

Overall, I think this series is thoroughly enjoyable.  The characters, anchored by a charming lead, are memorable and likeable, the plots are realistic and easy to relate too even as they amuse, and the artwork is simple and pleasing, particularly to younger readers.  Highly recommended.

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