by Jeff Kinney
I've been looking forward to reading this book, especially since hearing Jeff Kinney speak at the American Library Association last summer. As promised, this book reigns things in a bit, returning with a pared-down cast of characters: Greg Heffley and his family members, with a few mentions of his best friend Rowley. Like the earlier books in the series, this is a series of loosely-connected vignettes featuring Greg's family and friends. Middle-child Greg is just as self-centered as always and the family dynamics are very believable. Be careful what you wish for: in the last book, The Ugly Truth, I was a bit disappointed that Greg seemed to be growing up too fast. In this volume, Greg actually seems younger than he did in previous books. It's winter time, Christmas is around the corner, and Greg is more than a little creeped out by the idea that Santa is watching his every move! I did find it a bit of a stretch that Greg, who should be in 8th grade by now, would still actually believe in Santa Claus, but this was the crux of so many great jokes, that I didn't care. Just go with it!
More than ever, readers will see that Greg is a bright troublemaker, who means well, but can't seem to do anything right. When he puts up posters at school which are rained on, it leaves a mess, and he's terrified that the police will arrest him for vandalism. I think my favorite parts of the book are the flashbacks when we see a slightly younger Greg - for example, when Greg's younger brother Manny is a newborn, his mom buys Greg a baby doll to get him used to the idea of being a big brother. Young Greg loves that doll! Greg is adorable as he dotes over it, and readers are treated to a great picture of him caring for the doll as his mother sizes him up approvingly and his father looks on in mild alarm. Greg's always felt guilty for losing track of the doll - but it turns up after the basement is flooded. After years of neglect the doll is missing a leg and covered with muck so that it looks like something from a horror show - which in Greg's eyes only makes it cooler.
When a blizzard hits, Greg's dad is forced to hole up in a hotel and spends the holidays in peace and quiet in the warm comfort of his room. I was reminded strongly of the father from Calvin and Hobbes. Greg's older brother Roderick has been the baddie in previous books, but in this volume Manny is the villain. When the family is snowed in, and the house loses power, fussy toddler Manny craftily hoards all the best resources for himself. It's another bit of a stretch to think that little Manny could successfully adjust the house fuse boxes himself, but the story moves so quickly, I didn't mind it. And we have to give Manny credit - he's probably learned a lot by watching Greg in action. Who was once the student is now the master!
This book is hilarious - I found myself laughing out loud, making embarrassing snorting noises, and demanding to read-aloud random portions to anyone who would listen. It's bust-a-gut funny and everything you hope for in a humor novel. I highly recommend it.
I borrowed this book from the library.