Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Meaning of Life...And Other Stuff by Jimmy Gownley

The Meaning of Life . . . and Other Stuff is the seventh Amelia Rules! graphic novel -- not including A Very Ninja Christmas, which I haven't seen but which seems to be shorter and slighter than the other books -- about a preteen girl and her odd friends in Anytown, Pennsylvania. (Not literally Anytown -- I'm sure it has a real name -- but figuratively, since Amelia moved there from the big bad city of New York in the first book.)

I've written a lot about this series before, starting with the fourth volume, then hitting the first three in one post, and then volume five and volume six in quick succession last year -- so I don't have a whole lot to add this time. Gownley is still telling his story in chapters that sometimes feel as if they could have been individual issues, through they're mostly 32-36 pages long this time, and his characters are still growing up at a pace far slower than real kids, though they are growing up, which is good to see. Gownley also still has a deeply buried cynicism, which only burbles to the surface occasionally -- the principal at  (nudge, nudge!) Joe McCarthy Elementary School, a grumpy old idiot who hates Amelia for insufficient reasons, is the best example -- and a deeper sweetness that almost masks the fact that he can craft interesting characters and resonant plots. (Amelia Rules! tends to float along on a half-goofball, half-tween-drama level, so when it drops into the story of the father of one of Amelia's friends, lost in action while serving in the army overseas, it's surprising and almost shocking.)

So this volume is about rebuilding the old clubhouse, about the the travails of the cheerleading squad, and about Amelia's rock-star aunt Tanner, who ran off suddenly in the previous book to go on tour and has been entirely absent since. It's soap-operatic in the good sense -- a long story, filled with characters whose lives you get to know and care about -- but that does mean that it's better to drop back and start at the beginning, even if that end of the story was a bit weaker and sillier.

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