Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End is a genuinely funny and even insightful young adult book. As far as comic books or graphic novels go, it is second to none. It’s easy to see why Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid is such a wildly successful franchise. There are even movie versions of the books, to which I can only ask: Is it too much to ask that people read a book–even one with pictures?
Greg’s mother is always smiling and enthusiastic, even when the rest of the family clearly isn’t. She is indefatigably cheerful and optimistic. The mother is responsible for dragging the family to events which will supposedly be fun. One suspects if the father and sons were left to their own devices, they would just stay in and play with their phones and video games. Anyway, it’s not uncommon for an adolescent boy to take a dim view of his mother. Yet there is a moment when Greg shows some empathy for his mom. After a pool party didn’t go as expected, Greg reflects:
“...I felt bad because I knew how much she wanted tonight to be special” (177).
Kinney represents the semi-permanent sulky state of teenagers. Rodrick has a typically malevolent look of a gawky teenager. He always looks angry. Regardless of the context, he is off to the side scowling at Greg. In other words, Rodrick is the archetypical older brother.
An adult would also enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid because of the clever humor and its nostalgic element.
3-year-old Manny is cheerful infant, a picture of childhood innocence. Manny, with the use of a flare gun, several times becomes the unexpected hero of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End. In almost every scene, Greg’s mother is showering attention on Manny, which implies that Greg feels a little jealous subconsciously.
Finally, the hapless protagonist, Greg Heffley, is a mix of Holden Caulfield and Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. He’s a middle schooler who regards life with a mix of dread and anxiety. The idea of Greg as somewhat morose is part of the books appeal. Kinney explains:
“I think if Greg looked happy or joyful or strong on the covers, I think kids wouldn’t reach for the books as much.”
Greg’s family, for a reason that is only vaguely alluded to, is living in “Gramma’s” basement. That they are in the Covid era is referenced only insofar as Greg’s father is frequently on zoom meetings and appears to be working remotely.
Naturally, Greg’s family feels cramped in the basement with no bathroom and gets on each other’s nerves. Greg’s grandma does not seem particularly hospitable either. They make some attempts to go on a trip to escape the pressure-cooker of Gramma’s basement, but they can hardly agree on a destination they all might enjoy. An opportunity presents itself when Greg’s uncle Gary’s RV becomes available for an extended road trip.
The RV adventure is a struggle: Greg’s mom nags Greg and Rodrick to get off their devices. The family also has trouble finding a nice piece of nature to enjoy without being swarmed with other families in their RVs. The idea, then, is to get away from the rest of humanity.
When they turn off the main road and find a pleasant lake to swim in, they are run off because it’s actually a fish hatchery. Greg reflects on how tamed the country is and how one cannot really “discover” any new place anymore. This is further demonstrated when the family parks the RV on what seems like a pleasant meadow–only to be run off again by the owner of what is actually his farm.
Then their camping experience is marred by a bear who is interested in their baked beans. As the family takes shelter in the camper, and the bear begins to rock the vehicle, Manny improbably shoots off a flare from the roof of the RV. A ranger rebukes them, explaining that shooting the flare was a fire hazard, and curtly asks them to leave.
The family’s next and final adventure begins when they arrive at Campers’ Eden, a resort for RV enthusiasts. Here the family at least has access to a laundromat, showers which run by quarters, and a lake to swim in. Greg falls in with a group of friends his age who are boisterous, but fun. The group’s leader is a short kid nicknamed Juicebox, then there’s Big Marcus, Regular Marcus, and Fivehead.
The antagonists at the RV camp are a group rebellious teenagers who camp at the top of a hill and launch watermelons from an improvised giant slingshot at people in the lake. Greg’s gang devises a clever ambush in which they attack the teenagers with water guns. But after the teenagers receive this much-needed comeuppance, Greg’s gang doesn’t have much of an escape plan to avoid the reprisal. A cat and mouse game ensues.
A Distaste for Other People
Kinney has something of a misanthropic perspective in his art. Many of the people Greg encounters are unnecessarily unpleasant in their interactions with him, including his own grandma and older brother. At the RV camp, no one will let him in their trailer during a thunderstorm. Then their next door neighbors spray them with a fire hydrant for sitting by a fire after “lights out” at 9pm. Those same neighbors aim hair dryers and leafblowers at them when they are sprayed by a skunk in an RV. It’s funny and I know it’s hyperbole, but it also is a commentary on the default hostility of Americans.
When the bridge leading into Campers’ Eden is damaged by a storm, things get desperate. With no way to get in or out, there is a run on food supplies and water. Dogs start to run together in packs.
The only time when the RV camp was enjoyable, according to our narrator Greg, is when circumstances cause the other campers to abscond:
“After the campground emptied out, we were the only ones LEFT. With all the people gone, we were finally able to enjoy ourselves…So all it took for this place to turn into paradise was for everyone else to LEAVE.” (p. 214)
Kinney works under the premise that hell is other people. It is both tragic and humorous that his assessment rings true.
Good Reading Practice for Kids and Fun for Adults
Kinney uses colloquialisms such as “wanna” etc., but at least the prose are grammatically correct insofar as it is written in complete sentences. It is conceivable, therefore, that a young reader or adolescent could increase their literacy through reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I should add that an adult would also enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid because of the clever humor and its nostalgic element.
The book is positively addictive. Kinney seems to be extraordinarily connected to the adolescent experience, such that he conjures its inner monologue through his characters. With no chapters or any other kind of logical break, one is left to his willpower to put the book DOWN. (I’m stealing Kinney’s all caps for emphasis trick). The cartoons contribute mightily to the humorous impact of the book. Also, Kinney’s a natural storyteller. You can see why he’s sold hundreds of millions of copies. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a comic; Diary of a Wimpy Kid gives new life to the genre.
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