Headline: How could it be anything else but a best-seller?
Originally posted May 5th, 2015
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Before I begin this review – which is actually my first official book review – I just want to come clean about a few things. First of all, yes, I did buy and read this book. But it may surprise you to know that I’m male. It may surprise you even more to know that I’m a male in his early 20s. So with that in mind, you may be wondering: why is someone like me reading a book aimed at teenage girls? Well, I do have a good reason. You see, as a former creative and professional writing student, I like to understand what makes certain books, or book series, international best-sellers. When I first saw ‘Dork Diaries’, I thought it was just somebody trying to capitalise on the success of Jeff Kinney’s ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series. I’ve never read any of the ‘Wimpy Kid’ books, but I’ve seen parts of the movies and they’re not my cup of tea. So I never gave ‘Dork Diaries’ much thought either. But after seeing just how many books in the series Rachel Renee Russell had released, plus their themes – and billboard advertisements – I started wondering what made ‘Dork ‘Diaries’ so successful. So one day I went and bought all the books in the series – including the World Book Day special ‘How to be a Dork’. After reading the first book, I knew I’d gotten my money’s worth.
So what is it about this book/diary I found so intriguing. Let’s start with the story. The plot revolves around the life of Nikki Maxwell, a 14-year-old girl who’s trying to settle into her new middle school, Westchester Country Day. However, the private school is full of – what she calls – CCPs (Cute, Cool and Popular kids) and Nikki is anything but. In fact, she considers herself to be a total dork for writing in a diary and not even owning a smart phone. Not to mention the only reason she’s enrolled is because her dad got a job as the school bug exterminator – a fact she’s desperate to keep secret. Completely out of her comfort zone, Nikki has to face many challenging – often hilarious – scenarios, so she can make new friends; avoid humiliation from her arch-rival, MacKenzie Hollister; and earn the respect of everyone in school, by winning an art competition. All the while dealing with typical teenage issues like first crushes, bratty sisters and overly-eccentric parents.
On the surface, the plot seems like your generic middle-school girl story, with drama, humour and romance. And for the most part…yeah, it is. But what makes it so unique is how everything is told from the perspective of Nikki’s diary. The whole book is written as diary entries from August 31st to October 10th; complete with drawings, smiley faces and big bold capital lettering for when she really wants to make a point. What makes this style so ingenious is how it enables the reader to experience the story directly through Nikki’s mind. Even though some parts feel crazy, over-the-top or unbelievable, the narrative makes the story feel as though it were genuinely written by a 14-year-old, thus making it more believable. The reader also connects with Nikki in a way that lets them experience her emotions: when she’s embarrassed, we’re embarrassed; when she’s miserable, we’re miserable; when she’s scared, angry or happy, so are we. The story is fun and crazy most of the time, but there are moments when it becomes tense, dramatic and emotional, too.
In terms of characters, most of them are stereotypes for a story of this genre: Nikki is the new girl trying to fit in, but struggles because she’s branded a loser; MacKenzie is the popular/mean girl, who’s hell-bent on making Nikki’s life miserable; Brandon is the charming love interest; Chloe and Zoey are the lovable sidekicks/comic reliefs; Brianna is the annoying little sister; Nikki’s mum and dad are the goofy parents; the list goes on. However, much like the story itself, the characters are believable because of how Nikki interacts with them. When she’s with Brandon, she gets nervous and says weird things. When she’s with Brianna, she acts sisterly. When MacKenzie humiliates her, she feels more and more like she doesn’t fit in at Westchester. All these characters bring out different sides to Nikki’s personality, making her feel more fleshed-out as a person. Nikki also shows how human she is by mentioning personal information about herself, like the fact she’s allergic to metallic paint or that her favourite TV program is the Tyra Banks Show.
If there is one highlight of this book, however, it’s the pop-culture references. There are so many references to real-life things that it’s almost impossible to think the story is fictional – no matter how outrageous it gets. All throughout the book Nikki mentions celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Dakota Fanning; TV shows like ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’; books like ‘Harry Potter’; and so on. It’s amazing how the author can get away with referencing so many things, but it’s what makes the book so memorable – you never know what Nikki is going to mention next. Chances are, if you read ‘Dork Diaries’, you’ll recognise at least one thing you know and love.
Another highlight is the humour. In my opinion, it’s impossible to read ‘Dork Diaries’ without laughing at some point or another. My personal favourite moment is when Nikki and her friends take ballet class and they accidentally end up having to dance to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Other moments made me chuckle as well.
In conclusion, there’s a lot to like about ‘Dork Diaries’; MacKenzie’s insults are creative, the pop-culture references are class, the action is hilarious and occasionally heart-felt. But perhaps most importantly, the story works well on its own. The ending is satisfying and ties up loose ends, while still leaving enough material for Rachel Renee Russell to use if she ever decided to make a sequel…or 10.
There are, however, some things in the book I’m not too fond of. The ‘Harry Potter’ reference was likely made to capitalise on that book series’ fame. Nikki’s catchphrases “How juvenile would that be?” and “said it all in my head” get very repetitive – as does her overwhelming desire to kill herself whenever she’s embarrassed/humiliated. Chloe and Zoey’s names were clearly chosen because they rhyme (making them less credible). And there are way too many mentions of lip gloss!
However, all of that aside, I can honestly say I enjoyed reading ‘Dork Diaries’ and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the series. Some people may criticise it, saying it’s too outrageous to be real, or too realistic to be fiction. But when it comes down to it, it’s not about how believable or unbelievable the story is. ‘Dork Diaries’ is a humorous and unique take on modern teenage life, which doesn’t let the limitations of realism interfere with its creativity. You also have to remember that everything is being told from Nikki’s point of view, so anything crazy, over-the-top or out-of-place would seem normal to a teenager like her – hence why she writes it that way.
I would honestly recommend this book to anyone. Don’t let the target audience or pink cover-art fool you. I think the humour, pop-culture references and drama could appeal to anyone who’s looking for a good read – even boys. Rachel Renee Russell may not have written ‘Dork Diaries’ expecting it to become the major success it is. But given everything I’ve had to say about it, it’s earned the honour of being called an international best-seller.
I absolutely LOVE how this review turned out! As stated in the introduction, it was my first time critiquing a book rather than a movie (or video game). It was also my first time writing a review since finishing my Creative Writing course.
I’m not sure if it was the 5-month break I had, the knowledge I gained from University or the fact I wrote this piece during the London Book Fair (2015). But whatever the reason, ‘Dork Diaries’ ended up being one of my best-written reviews to date.
Everything came out perfectly.
The introduction established who I was and why I decided to read the book. What I said not only made me relatable to the reader, but gave the novel more credibility; considering I was outside its target audience, yet still inspired to read it. Plus, establishing myself as a former writing student immediately made the review sound more professional.
The synopsis was a reasonable length, too. It gave insight into Nikki’s personality, while referencing numerous characters and plot points – without spoilers. I didn’t go into details about the other characters. But that was because they didn’t have much depth to them (yet) anyway. Also, I said the best way to experience them was to see how Nikki personally interacted with them.
As for the rest of the review, it succeeded in making the book stand out by explaining why it was the same but different. Specifically, how it used humour, pop-culture references and a unique writing style to refresh the middle-school girl genre. Additionally, the way I described things was very creative and professional at times: “a humorous and unique take on modern teenage life, which doesn’t let the limitations of realism interfere with its creativity.” Some paragraphs even highlighted other aspects such as flaws, the author my personal feelings and recommendations – the latter of which could convince anyone to read ‘Dork Diaries’.
I can’t say this review is perfect – there were some minor tweaks I made in the repost. But there’s no denying its success. Since May 2015, more than 15 people have found it helpful – which is the most for any review I’ve written to date. I’m so proud of it, I’d even call it my magnum opus.
I honestly wish more of my reviews could turn out this well. But so far, there’s only been one that’d matched it in quality and popularity. Which one? You’ll see.
(Image courtesy of: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dork-Diaries-Rachel-Renee-Russell/dp/1471144011)