Monday, August 18, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #230: Star Wars: Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan by Jeffrey Brown

Everything popular turns into a genre: all you need are three popular works in the same vein and whatever they have in common will become the assumed tropes of all of the things that follow. It happens in books, in movies -- I wouldn't be surprised if it happens in serious plays and theme-park rides and folksongs. And genres that run to series get caught up even more strongly, because the later works have to reiterate the earlier ones, like a stew cooking down to its essence.

Jeffrey Brown is writing a series in two genres simultaneously: Star Wars and the middle-grade cartoon diary novel. (Yes, the latter is a genre now; ask a middle-school librarian or take a look at the bestseller list.) So far, the requirements of Star Wars have been relatively light -- or maybe I mean so fundamental as to be all-encompassing and so paradoxically invisible. But that means that the cartoon diary standards -- from Dork Diaries and Wimpy Kid and their imitators -- have that much more room to flourish and grow.

In the first book, Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Tattooine pre-teen Roan Novachez headed off to the fabled Jedi Academy on Coruscant for a course of study and social milieu that was remarkably like what most American kids hit in grades six through eight. It was very clearly product -- it could hardly avoid that, being in two genres at once and the product of two media companies dominant in their own spaces, Disney and Scholastic -- but it was a fun product, enlivened by cartoonist Jeffrey Brown's indy-comics sensibilities and his particular mix-up of the woe-is-me requirements of the form and Star Wars furniture.

Roan made it through that first year, and the book was a bestseller, which means Roan has to come back for seventh grade another year at Jedi Academy in Star Wars: Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan. This one is a little less particular, with a lot more generic "the girl I like is unhappy for some reason, so I will refuse to talk to her" and less of what made Brown's work and Roan's story specific the first time out, like Roan's love for drawing.

The plot this time is one part "Roan isn't quite as good at piloting as he first thinks, and so he works hard to get better" and one part "Roan falls in, very mildly, with the Bad Crowd, after he has a misunderstanding with the girl he likes and his best friend" -- both of them quite standard for this genre. Brown sells both of these well, but those of us who aren't twelve have seen this many times before. (And those of us who are twelve have probably seen it very recently in similar books, too.)

Return of the Padawan is amusing and positive and full of strong life-lessons -- listen to your friends, do what's right, work hard, don't cheat, tell the truth -- and will be loved by probably hundreds of thousands of kids. And it's giving Jeffrey Brown a very high-profile and hopefully well-paying gig. As long as you don't expect too much from it, it's entirely swell.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

1 comment:

strugglingwriter said...

I have read both books aloud to my son at bedtime. They are both great and Yoda cracks us up.

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