Dork Diaries: Crush Catastrophe by Rachel Renee Russell

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Dork Diaries: Crush Catastrophe by Rachel Renee Russell

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Book twelve in this series finally sees the saga arrive at where other franchises did very early on – but there's still very little wrong with what we get.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781471167751

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Is Nikki Maxwell's life actually turning a corner for the good? She's finally working out she has a crush on Brandon, the hunky guy who's looked ideal for her since book one, and she can actually get to page 100 here without her arch nemesis Mackenzie doing something bad to her. Life doesn't actually have any room for badness or mishap, anyway – she wants to be with Brandon training her new puppy, she wants to go to Paris for a month, tour America with her band (don't ask), and you just have to wonder how she's going to fit things in. There are problems – her manipulative younger sister stealing family time (and Nikki's candy), of course there are problems – but surely things, as I say, are on the up. And surely being mentor to an exchange student for the last week ever at middle school will not be a problem? Oh hold, on, of course it can…

In typical Nikki fashion she makes a huge faux-pas before even meeting the student in the flesh, and this book's main plot is what results from that first encounter, however much it comically flashes backwards and aside to instances of Nikki dumpster-diving for food, getting a mouthful of loo water, and so on. The breezy comedy of manners for the tweenage audience is once more the strong selling point of this book, but this plot, and this plot in particular, does force me to raise the issue of these books not quite going so far as they can.

To repeat, everyone who's ever read one of these books knows Nikki and Brandon are a thing, it's only she (and perhaps he) who is ignorant of that. So why, after three thousand pages of her unrealistically-scribbled-at-such-great-length-hanging-around-the-locker-door, and copiously-illustrated, diary, is she only now talking in terms of crushes? She's thinking to be going to high school, learning to drive and do everything else the plots clearly don't have room for, so why is she being so virginal? And, more key than that, why has it taken twelve books for a male spanner in the whole Brandon works to rear its ugly head? The likes of Louise Rennison is definitely a British equivalent, even if it was much less pictorial and flippant with its grammar and emoticons, but it had the dilemma from the get-go.

Still, that's partly to ignore that the point of this series is to drag Nikki through embarrassment after embarrassment so the young female reader doesn't have to go there herself. The books are still never going to win the hearts of the prudish librarian who dislikes the cartoonish illustration, and the smileys and multiple interrobangs, but they act as very strong entertainment for the young reader, with Nikki always able to embrace her inner dork with the help of the stability of her BFFs and her resilience to bounce back with a smile. I don't want to make it sound that comparisons with other franchises are derogatory, for this series is its own thing, and it's all good, and it means a lot to a lot of people – as does the author and her daughters (who labour on it too) being people of colour. But when the norm is something a bit meatier, it has to be noted when this is just a delightful bucket of candy floss.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

More illustrations, with added craziness, can be had with Funny Kid for President by Matt Stanton, which guns for the Wimpy Kid audience.

Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell in Chronological Order

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