written by Rachel Renée Russell
In the tradition of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which it has been heavily compared to, Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries is a charming and funny look at young life in and out of school. Russell’s protagonist is eighth-grader Nikki Maxwell, who is already more than a little cynical (“I’m definitely not the kind of girl who curls up with a diary and a box of Godiva chocolates,” she writes defiantly, and she means it) and, to be honest, quite angry at certain situations in her life (“Sometimes I wonder if my mom is BRAIN DEAD. Then there are days when I know she is.”)
The big drama comes from Nikki’s desire to get an iPhone, which she expects her mother to buy for her so she can impress her fellow students at Westchester Country Day school and gain the popularity she craves. Mom, however, has the very sensible (but not very popular) response that if Nikki wants it enough, she can save up her own money and pay for it herself.
These kinds of parental and life lessons come through subtly (read: Russell doesn’t preach nor bang you over the head with her lessons) throughout Dork Diaries. It should be pointed out that the book is not a graphic novel per se, but it stars an aspiring manga artist, and it’s heavily illustrated throughout its notebook-lined pages.
Nikki does make a friend eventually, in the form of the very popular and vexing Mackenzie. Like Nikki, Mackenzie is also an artist, a fact that instigates their primary rivalry in a school art contest.
Russell has a great kid-friendly voice and uses it to make Dork Diaries both funny and authentic. The rivalry between Nikki and Mackenzie (even their names are so Generation Now, aren’t they?) is never too horrible, and the girls’ personalities are allowed to shine through.
In a YA field swimming with kid protagonists as outsiders, Dork Diaries manages to stand out, mostly because of its thoroughly enjoyable lead and keen ear for funny, authentic dialogue.