Classic middle school themes come alive, but they fail to really go anywhere

INVISIBLE EMMIE

One bad day in seventh grade can feel like a lifetime. However, even end-of-the-world–level heartache can have surprising and comic consequences.

Emmie’s story is part of the growing subgenre that hybridizes the middle-grade and graphic novel. With doodle-illustrated prose chapters depicting Emmie’s world and entire comics-style sections depicting the popular Kate, Libenson takes readers inside the halls of middle school with the same nod to weirdness and eye-rolling angst as such format standards as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. Emmie is a painfully shy girl who is forced to see and be seen one fateful day when a playful game with best friend Brianna turns into a nightmare. Libenson uses two different illustration styles to distinguish between Emmie, the soft-spoken wallflower, and Kate, the outgoing girl of fabulousness. An artist using her doodles to illustrate the seventh-grade world, Emmie sees herself as someone with no voice, while the enigmatic, charismatic Kate is full of confidence and determined to push Emmie out of her comfort zone. Though readers may be puzzled by the device initially, Libenson’s rationale for the dual portrayals becomes clear in the end. However, the repetition of Emmie’s description as quiet, shy, and disenfranchised becomes as grating as a nasal whine. Both Emmie and Kate appear to be white, but school scenes reveal multiethnic classmates.

Classic middle school themes come alive, but they fail to really go anywhere . (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-248494-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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