The "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, written by Jeff Kinney has now stretched to six books, with a seventh book scheduled for release later this year. The series shows no signs of slowing down.
Each book is a series of picaresque adventures by Greg Heffley, the titular "wimpy kid". Although the title is perhaps a bit misleading: Greg Heffley is not extraordinarily wimpy, but instead is about at the middle of the middle school hierarchy. He also has a fairly typical family, consisting of a suburban father and mother, his big brother Roderick, and his spoiled baby brother Manny. He goes to a normal public middle school, where he faces problems with social pressures and liking girls.
If you think that all sounds perfectly mediocre, you might be right. That at least was my impression about half-way through the first book. And for the book's "target market", that also might be the case. Somewhere in the first book, I realized the joke, and realized why these books were more than just fun, easily read books about youthful misadventures.
While the books are the self-described adventures of a "wimpy" kid, Greg Heffley is not a poor poetic soul trapped in a world that is too cruel for him. He is a typical kid, and his wimpiness is most glaring in his constant inability to morally or intellectually think about the consequences of what he is doing. He constantly shirks responsibility, lies and cheats, and tries to manipulate his parents and his school, and he always fails, without ever coming to the conclusion that he might somehow be to blame for what happens. It would have been easy to write a series of books about the poor nice kid who was always the victim of the cool kids. Instead, the narrator admits that he wants to be in the position of picking on other kids, he just doesn't know how to acquire that power.
These books actually are somewhat unique in not just young adult literature, but in literature for any ages: they have a protagonist that is basically unsympathetic. And why this is a valuable thing for kids to read (even if they might not get the joke at first), is it brings up the radical idea that sometimes, it isn't authority figures or the media or the cruel world that has put us in our situation. Sometimes, the person to blame is actually ourselves. I am happy that youth of today are receiving this message, even if they might not realize it for a while.
After writing that, I should say that I might be overstating the case. The books can be read without this message in mind, and while Greg Heffley is in many ways not an ideal character, the reader still feels sympathetic towards him as he negotiates the process of growing up in a confusing world. And both the writings and the drawings are often spot-on parodies of things I remember from being that age. Grouchy teachers and clueless parents are portrayed perfectly.
When I first heard about these books, I thought they were a silly fad. After having read them, I think that they will have some staying power, and are actually important books in communicating ideas of responsibility.