I know The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is beloved by many, but when I read it a few months ago, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I wanted to love it because I love that it's a graphic novel/traditional novel hybrid in diary format. I think that's a new format a lot of visual readers could really get into.
My problem with the series (the first two books are out with three additional books in the works) is that I didn't like the main character, Greg Heffley. To put it bluntly, he was kind of a jerk sometimes. Greg is a middle schooler just trying to blend in, boost his popularity, and avoid bullies, but in the meantime, his own blunders and his nerdy friend Rowley hold him back. There are times in the book when Greg clearly makes the wrong decisions, which I could live with, but he is often so mean to Rowley and seems oblivious to it. It may be a realistic portrayal of a middle school boy, but does that mean that I have to like it? (I fully admit my dislike of Greg is coming from the mother in me).
I recently came across two interviews with Jeff Kinney that sort of clarified why I feel the way I do about the Greg. In "Stuck (In The) Middle" in September's Parent & Child Magazine, Kinney says, "Greg often thinks he's been redeemed when he hasn't. In the first book, [his friend] Rowley gets in trouble for something Greg does. Greg's mother tells Greg he needs to do the right thing. Greg thinks the right thing is to let Rowley take the fall this time around because it's best for both of them. He comes home and Greg's mother asks, 'Did you do the right thing?' and Greg says yes. He's rewarded with ice cream, and he's very proud of himself for having done the right thing." Not exactly a character you want your kids to look up to.
Then in an interview posted in the Wimpy Kid website, Kinney is asked if he thinks Greg is a good role model. Kinney answered, "No, not really. Greg is self-centered and can be kind of clueless. I don't think Greg is a bad kid, necessarily; but like all of us, he has his faults. Hopefully, readers will understand that Greg's imperfections are what make him funny. I think that stories with characters who always do the right thing are a little boring. I wanted to create a character who was more realistic." Now, there are a lot of books out there that I love where the main character makes huge mistakes, but later tries to make it up or take responsibility so I guess that's what really gets me; not that Greg makes mistakes, but that he doesn't regret them.
I guess it's possible to dislike the main character and still like the series, because that's the conclusion that I've come to on this one, and it makes me feel a little better to know that Kinney thinks Greg isn't role-model material. Greg's portrayal of his life is very funny and his voice reads like that of a true middle schooler without shadows of a grown-up behind it so I'm sure many a kid will treasure the series.
I've had several talks with parents who don't like certain kids books because the main characters are poor role-models. Personally, I think you have to give kids some credit that they know right from wrong and can enjoy a book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and appreciate the humor without wanting to follow in Greg's footsteps. In fact, it's Greg's ignorance to the flaws of his moral compass that make parts of the book so funny.
The third book of the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw is due out on January 13th.