Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review - All's Faire in Middle School

All's Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
Date: 2017
Publisher: Dial Books
Reading level:MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 248
Format: e-book
Source: library

Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she's eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she'll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind—she'll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it's not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don't) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family's unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

As she did in Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson perfectly—and authentically—captures the bittersweetness of middle school life with humor, warmth, and understanding.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Near the end of last year, I read the delightful Roller Girl. It was the best graphic novel I'd read all year (or, ever, at that point, since I was fairly new to the format). So when I saw that the author had a new book out, I was eager to have a look. Maybe it's because my expectations were really high after Roller Girl, but... I wasn't crazy about this one.

One thing I do love about Jamieson's books is that she introduces readers to experiences they might not be that familiar with. In the case of Roller Girl, it was roller derby. I learned a lot about the sport, and even wished I had the courage to try it (she made it look so fun). With All's Faire in Middle School, the focus is on Renaissance faires. The main character, Imogene, is the child of a couple of professional faire actors, so she spends a lot of time immersed in that world. That part of the book I liked. The rest of it... not so much.

There was so much focus on middle school in this book, and I just couldn't relate. The way my school system was set up, we didn't have have middle school. Elementary school went to grade 7, and high school took care of the rest. So I never really had to navigate the halls of a building that's populated almost entirely by a student body that's in the throes of puberty. I've read a few books now that deal with middle school (mostly focusing on how awful it is), and it makes me kind of glad I never had to go through that. It can be interesting, if it's done right. In the case of this book, however, my eyes kind of glazed over with all the preteen drama.

I also had issues with some of the characters. In particular, those in Imogene's family. I thought her six-year-old brother wasn't very consistent (one moment he was pretending to be pregnant and making jokes about his water breaking--do most six-year-olds even know what that means?--and the next he was running around the apartment in his underwear like a feral toddler). He was also annoying rather than cute. Then there was her father. He was kind of useless. At one point, he told his 11-year-old daughter that it was "fend for yourself" night... while he was making a nice big sandwich for himself. Sure, Imogene could probably have made herself something (although she said she'd probably be eating a handful of croutons and a slice of cheese), but expecting a 6-year-old to get his own dinner was asking a lot. Then there was the scene where he purposely tried to embarrass her at school. See, Imogene used to be homeschooled, but she wanted to try public school. Just because her parents didn't agree with her decision didn't mean it was okay for them to try to sabotage her social life.

Bullying was a topic that was addressed, but I found that a bit lacking, too. At one point, Imogene got into trouble for bullying because of the school's zero-tolerance policy. But another girl, who engaged in more habitual bullying, was never punished for anything. Was it zero-tolerance or not?

One thing about the writing that I found really annoying was the constant tense switching. Imogene's narrative was sometimes told in present tense, sometimes in past tense. But there seemed to be no reason for either, and you never knew when it was going to switch. (Sometimes both tenses were in the same text box!)

As in Roller Girl, the illustrations were adorable. They were probably my favourite part of the book, and despite this not-so-great experience, I'll probably pick up whatever Jamieson writes next. I'm excited to see what interesting experiences she'll choose to write about in the future.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Illustration: 5/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.13 out of 5 ladybugs

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