Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell is going to immediately draw comparisons to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Both are in the illustrated novel category and both focus on characters in middle school struggling to be cool and part of the “in” crowd. A universal theme, and one that my own almost-middle schoolers struggle with daily, boys and girls alike love the Wimpy Kid series. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life is similar in theme, but this is a girl book through and through. Not that this is a detriment- I already have a waiting list for my ARC because some of my girls saw the pink cover with the manga-like illustration and demanded I read it quickly and pass it on. And they certainly won’t be disappointed.
Nikki can not believe that she has to go to snotty Westchester Country Day all because her exterminator dad just got a gig there. And to make matters even worse, she’s on a scholarship. And her parents are completely clueless! Don’t they realize that she will never fit in at WTC? If they expect her to fit in with these rich kids, she totally needs a new iPhone. A new wardrobe would help, too. When her mom says that she should save up for the phone, she lists three very important and totally serious reasons that will never work:
- Buying Nikki a phone will help her mother practice with money management.
- Her allowance is so small that saving up would take years and by then iPhones won’t be cool anymore so everyone will laugh at her antiquated phone.
- Nikki is an artist and she needs to save up for art camp instead.
I admit I was laughing at loud at Nikki and her reasoning. It reminded me so much of my students and their “drama”. There’s always drama in middle school! Nikki, of course, is no exception.
As you read Nikki’s diary of her eighth grade year, you can’t help but laugh. Her fascination with the queen bee/head mean girl at school is reminiscent of so many middle schoolers. She wants to hate Mackenzie and her designer outfits, but she also wants to be her. And when Mackenzie enters her fashion portfolio in the school-wide art contest, she almost intimidates Nikki into skipping the contest. Even when Nikki does enter, she’s convinced that she won’t win. She changes and grows during eighth grade, but in a realistic way. Nikki isn’t perfect at the end of the book and her life isn’t picture-perfect. She’s a regular kid, an everygirl. And I think that’s why middle schoolers are going to connect with her. And because she is in 8th grade, this will also be a great book for struggling/reluctant readers in early high school.
Nikki’s parents were one of my favorite parts of the book. Convinced they are completely clueless, Nikki can’t understand why they want to make her life miserable. Like when they decide the perfect solution to her friendless life to put positive affirmations all over the house. Including in the toaster. Which Nikki promptly sets on fire by accident. Sounds like something that would happen to me! But her parents are trying to do right by her and give her the best education they can while also making sure she is happy. Nikki just can’t see that at thirteen. And what thirteen-year old can?!
Rachel Renee Russell has a hit on her hands here. This book is going to appeal to a lot of middle school girls. And I couldn’t be happier that they will be reading a book where being a dork is cool. Nikki realizes that sometimes being a dork is fun! As a loud and proud dork/nerd, this makes my heart leap. Too many of our girls spend their time trying to be someone they’re not. They can learn a lot from Nikki and laugh along the way.