Big Nate in the Zone by Lincoln Peirce
|Big Nate in the Zone by Lincoln Peirce|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Trouble at school for Big Nate, with homework and relationships – this cartoony book could almost be called formulaic if it weren't just a little too loose. Still well worth a read, however.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: March 2014|
|Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books|
Life just can't get any worse for Big Nate. A friend ruins his homework for him, he ruins a beanbag in the school library, and the whole place is turning into a healthy-eating zone run by fun hoovers intent on force-feeding the kids wholesomeness, exercise and rabbit food. How could his luck possibly change? Well, with a broken-off action figure foot, that's how.
The book reviewing gods kind of did for me the last time I met Big Nate (Genius Mode). I could see more than one series of his titles overlapping and didn't know what was what, so thought the format of that book – standard newspaper comic funnies in weekly doses – was the routine. But no – the standard book is a reluctant reader novel, such as this. I won't say how far along the storyline we are – it's either six novels now or nine, unless it's seven – but it's easy to see how the series has got this far.
This type of book is very well-known by now – you must know the most popular take on it, and so I'll hold off by naming it as long as I can – but this does have a visual style different enough to be worth mentioning. It's done in what appears to be a looser form, even though there are a routinely high number of illustrations on every page. Big Nate, being a comic artist in his own bedroom at night, can dramatize his day with images in multiple panels, as opposed to the other franchise's single images. He can also assign dialogue to an image of a face, even where there is text alongside it, so the book is almost read in two columns down the page. His dreams and oh-so-knowledgeable advice to others can take the form of multi-page comics, which is the only instance of the text being in 'handwriting' – elsewhere it's in regular book font.
That 'proper' font aside, this does make for a much more comic-styled volume. On an initial flick-through this didn't seem that much different to Genius Mode. What's important is that it is still inherently readable, despite the text seeming at first glance to disappear alongside the welter of cartoony drawings. It also allows Peirce to use a lot of different comedic beats, either the quick, shouty punchline, or a lengthier comic strip reveal.
While the comedy is certainly here, and the target audience will easily engage with the main character and his friends and enemies alike, I do look for a bit more cohesion in the plot of these books. To me it seems too easy to just have reason after reason for Nate to feel miserable, a turn-around and yay a happy ending. I'm not saying this strictly follows that template, but it feels like it at times. There is no unifying theme to the book – the health shtick doesn't get fully developed, the troublesome homework project just enters and leaves the plot at will, and the nearest thing to a callback, where something of minor relevance proves to have been a factor in the plot all along more so than you thought, is a most un-heralded second gig for Nate's garage band.
Still, there are many things in here I must mention, if only to disguise my elderly curmudgeon. There's the comedy of all the happy times when Nate is 'in the zone'. There's the general satisfaction that among the cluttered pages lies a proper book for the audience to read and enjoy, which they definitely will. And there's the fact that this isn't all about Nate, as a sub-plot concerning his buddy Chad and his heartstrings proves. And trust me, these books have been imitated and done much worse over the years. But as to why this series isn't as greatly admired as the one name-checked on the cover, I would point to one of two things – the fact that there are two (or three) kinds of Big Nate book and it's not easy to tell which is which, and the fact that generally, other similar series have more focussed contents. Still, while second-tier, this series is certainly one to enjoy.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Phew, I actually got through the whole review without mentioning the Wimpy Kid by name. Oh, drat. For another book along the same lines, you should enjoy The Diary of Dennis the Menace by Steven Butler which is soon gaining volume two – so get in there at the start.
You can read more book reviews or buy Big Nate in the Zone by Lincoln Peirce at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Big Nate in the Zone by Lincoln Peirce at Amazon.com.
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