Friday, December 24, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 324 (12/24) -- Amelia Rules! True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids To Know) by Jimmy Gownley

It's so very easy to sentimentalize childhood -- and it happens so very often -- that creative works that are moderately clear-eyed about the real emotional lives of kids often get over-praised, just to encourage them. (There's the other side of books for young readers, of course -- the books where everything is depressing and dark -- but those are much more likely to focus on adolescents, who often do believe in their own drama.) And so I don't want to overpraise Jimmy Gownley's Amelia Rules! books -- though they are tremendously entertaining, mixing slapstick silliness with thoughtful stories about one girl growing up in small town USA.

(I reviewed the first three Amelia Rules! books in a clump, after reading the fourth one during my Eisner-judging death march last spring, and just hit the most recent volume as Book-A-Day # 196.)

Amelia Rules! True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know) sees its hero getting another year older -- she has an eleventh birthday in this volume, as she had her tenth a few books ago -- which is encouraging; a series like this doesn't have to show the passage of time at all. (In fact, there are entire empires of kid-lit based on characters who never age, from the Hardy Boys to Junie B. Jones.) The fact that Gownley does want to keep Amelia growing up -- however slowly, and however far he intends to let it go -- shows that he does want to keep Amelia Rules! tied to the real world, which is entirely a good sign.

He's still doling out Amelia Rules! stories in roughly comics-issue size, though: True Things consists of five stories, each in the twenty-to-thirty-five page range, and they relate to each other in much the same way that subsequent issues of a comic do -- they're not pieces of a larger story, but separate stories in a deliberate sequence that build on some events and move the characters forward. Amelia turns eleven in the first one, and spends much of the rest of the book wrestling with the fact that she likes a boy -- the very one, in fact, that she's been vehemently telling all of her friends that she does not like. She's also, as children of divorce do, dreaming about getting her mother and father back together -- and her father has a larger role in this book than he has in most of the previous volumes, so Gownley might be building up to something for later.

True Things has more of those soap-operatic elements than the wacky fight/chase scenes of the earlier books -- Amelia, and her friends, are growing up, and perhaps she's becoming a bit girlier in fifth grade, wearing dresses much more often and even having a major plot about tryouts for the cheerleading squad in the last volume. But Gownley's art is still full of energetic poses and layouts, which keeps the proceedings interesting. (Though Gownley's excellent lettering is so clearly in the school of Dave Sim that readers who know Sim's interesting opinions may find it occasionally distracting, for reasons unrelated to Gownley's work.)

If I had daughters instead of sons, of about the same ages, I'd be leaving the Amelia Rules! books out for them to read and hoping they liked it. As it is, I'll keep reading and enjoying it myself.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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