I read my first book in the immensely-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series the other day. Fourteen entries have been published since the first book became a bonafide hit in 2007; the most recent, Wrecking Ball, smashed into stores last week, and it was that story that I was able to peruse. My daughter, an avid fan, had been eagerly awaiting the new release, and she was ecstatic when we were able to read a review copy together. I had no idea what to expect, other than my daughter’s extremely-succinct summary of the series: “It’s about a funny kid.”
For the uninitiated, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series tells the story of young Greg Heffley, an awkward middle-schooler, and his many misadventures with his family and friends. The books are presented from Greg’s perspective in a diary format—his various entries narrate each particular story and are accompanied by rudimentary cartoons that add to both the humor and absurdity of the tale. Wrecking Ball focuses on home improvement: after an unexpected inheritance, Greg’s parents decide they would like to renovate their home, but things definitely don’t go as planned and mishaps ensue. Concrete is spilled, rodents and bees invade, grout gets gross, dishes and walls are destroyed, and a hot tub crashes through… well, I’ll let you read for yourself.
At first glance, I wasn’t certain that I would find Wrecking Ball to be much more than a goofy book for kids, a quick read without much substance. But as I read, I was charmed by the characters and the story. Greg, the Wimpy Kid himself, is awkward and self-absorbed, yet sweet and insightful—all traits that I (and probably many people) identified with as a middle-schooler. His imaginativeness and penchant for getting into trouble reminded me a little bit of another mischievous cartoon boy who was popular when I was a kid for his adventures with his stuffed tiger. And now that I’m an adult, I found myself empathizing with several of the thematic situations that Greg and his family faced in this story, such as the notion of letting go of things you once held dear, dealing with the death of a family member, or even the stress of a large project like a home renovation. (Sidebar: Fans of Tom Hanks may remember the 1986 film The Money Pit. The hot-tub situation in Wrecking Ball made me daydream about the bathtub incident in that movie.) In short, I found quite a bit to appreciate as an adult from this book that was supposedly written for kids.
And there is a lot for kids to enjoy in Wrecking Ball. Jeff Kinney is an author who clearly knows his audience. Wrecking Ball reads very much like the stream-of-consciousness of a fifth-grader, jumping first from a chore of cleaning out closets to a yard sale with unrealistic sales goals, then to fantasies of how a kid would spend inheritance money, and ultimately all of the misadventures that occurred with the home renovation. It is all very non-sequitur, but so is the mind of a middle-schooler. Greg’s thoughts that are presented in this diary are easily recognizable to middle-age readers, who are able to envision grand heroism from themselves (such as imagining saving a friend from a random pack of dogs or winning the respect of a group of construction workers) but are also able to perceive irrational fears (like a large monster made of grout!). Furthermore, Wrecking Ball is funny! The situations that Greg gets himself into are humorous enough on their own, but the illustrations enhance the hilarity exponentially, to the extent that kids (and adults alike) might end up laughing out loud at some of the cartoons—both my daughter and I did.
All told, there’s a lot to enjoy about this book. But perhaps the best endorsement I can give Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball is this: my daughter absolutely devoured this book, zooming through it in the span of a couple of hours. And then she opened it back up for another read the next day. She loved it. And any book that kids enjoy reading is worth its weight in grout.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball is available in stores now.