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Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Cabin Fever, Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy kid: Cabin Fever; Jeff Kinney

Published November 2011, Puffin. List price £12.99

Appropriate for ages 7-12

From the cover;

‘Greg Heffley is in big trouble. School property has been damaged, and Greg is the prime suspect. But the crazy thing is he’s innocent. Or at least sort of.

The authorities are closing in, but when a surprise blizzard hits, the Heffley family is trapped indoors. Greg knows that when the snow melts he’s going to have to face the music, but could any punishment be worse than being stuck inside with your family for the holidays?’

Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has spawned six novels, two full-length cinematic releases, a movie tie-in, activity book and a boat load of merchandise. To say it’s popular would be a gross understatement.

Cabin Fever begins with a discussion of the problem of Santa. Can he see you all the time? What if he sees something from the wrong angle and misconstrues nice as naughty? Can you be mean to people who don’t celebrate Christmas, since Santa won’t be looking over there? Unfortunately, this is the high point of the book, and it’s over within ten pages.

It’s worth ignoring the various criticisms of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise as histrionic pearl clutching. Yes there’s some irreverence and an undercurrent of anti-authoritarianism but this is not the reason to disuade your children from reading the books; disuade your children from reading them because they are, well, crap.

The plot is flimsy, the jokes are not quite as laugh-out-loud as we’ve been lead to believe, and the overall effect is of a slow puncture in an airbed – irritating and ultimately deflating. The occasional truism about modern living is not enough to pull the book from the gutter. So… blah is the book that it’s astonishingly difficult to find anything to say about it. This is not a case, you understand, of trying to find something complimentary to say, but to find  anything at all to say. Cabin Fever is 216 pages of nothing. I’m surprised Kinney managed to get it to stretch that far.

It’s lucky, then, that Greg, the 13-year-old protagonist is such a brilliantly realised creation. He’s occasionally startlingly observant, selfish, egotistical, sometimes mean, vaguely witty and a little precocious. Indeed, it is Kinney’s characters that are his saving grace when it comes to Cabin Fever.Even characters we glimpse only briefly appear rounded and realistic. It is for this reason alone that Cabin Fever deserves 2.5 out of 10.

What I learned about trends at 9.20 AM in WH Smith

Robert Cormier Heroes

This train station vendor of books – I refuse to call them booksellers – is a queer creature. Essentially news agents, they provide bleary-eyed commuters with their daily paper and weekly NME, Grazia or Take A Break and weary travellers with limp, underfilled sandwiches only marginally less overpriced than those for sale on the trains.

The WH Smith branch in which I find myself this bright Thursday morning has a large book section taking up just under half of the small train station concourse store. Their stock-in-trade is bestsellers – books with NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE emblazoned over the Hollywood-perfect cover photo. Gaudy yellow easy-peel stickers advertise three for £10 deals on every other title. TV tie-ins and pocket-sized dictionaries dominate the reference section, travel guides and pop psychology the non-fiction section.

Children’s titles are consigned to a corner. The shelves are messy and confused. Books in on the adult shelves are organised by genre and then alphabetically, with at one copy of most titles displayed cover-on, the better to entice the casual purchaser. Not so in the children’s section. There is no sense that I can see in the arrangement; tall and thin science and maths workbooks sit beside vampire romance fiction for the 11-16 crowd, written hastily to ride on the coat tails Stephenie Meyer’s odious Twilight series. CBeebies tie-ins jostle beside My First Encyclopaedia and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE).  A Latin translation of A Bear Called Paddington, ordered by some over-eager assistant buyer, languishes dustily at the back.

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