Allison's Book Bag

QUICK TAKE: Dear Dumb Diary by Jim Benton

Posted on: May 23, 2012

It’s always nice to end on a good note. Dear Dumb Diary by Jim Benton is my third and final chick lit book for the month. I’m relieved to say that this one I like. Its girl-loves-boy plot has quirky twists, Jamie and her nemesis Angeline are likeable characters, and the diary-entry style is fun. And so I must thank my sister who first suggested Dear Dumb Diary to me.

As is true of many books aimed at a middle-school audience, main character Jamie has an attitude. That is evident from the very first page of Jamie’s diary: “Are you sure you’re supposed to be reading someone else’s diary?” The difference however between some other books and Dear Dumb Diary is that Jamie is likeable. She obeys her parents, entertains her baby cousin, hangs out with her friends, plays with her dog, and works hard at her schoolwork. Before you get the idea she’s boring, let me add that she also hates her mom’s food, uses her cousin to get out of trouble, dyes her hair to be popular, sneaks food that she doesn’t like to her dog, and ends up in the principal’s office for wise-cracking in class. Sounds like your average kid next door, doesn’t she? That’s one reason why I like her. Jamie is also endearing because she admits to her failures. She knows that her hatred for Angeline stems from jealousy. She knows that there isn’t any good reason for her to buy a beret, except she must have one because they’re the latest fad. And she knows that stealing Angeline’s permanent record is wrong, but also believes it would be wonderful to use its contents to expose Angeline for the terrible person she is. Except it’s also highly possible that Angeline has only one flaw: she is more popular than Jamie.

Benton creates a host of enjoyable and comical characters. You already know about Jamie. Then there is Cousin Eddy who is allergic to strawberries, but doesn’t have any problem eating homework or dog bones. There is also best friend Isabella who loves lipsticks but doesn’t seem to know anything about them. After rejecting about forty of them, she finally selects a jumbo variation which turns out to be roll-on deodorant. And there is Stinker. He’s Jamie’s dog. She likes to pretend to throw a ball for him and he likes to really run after it until he realizes he’s been faked out. After pretend-throws a ball over one hundred times, Stinker starts plotting his revenge. All these quirky situations help liven up the otherwise predictable plot of girl-loves-boy-but-has-no-chance-of-getting-him-because-of-popular-girl plot. Oh, and I can’t forget about Angeline. Although she steals Isabella’s ChocoMint Lip Smacker, Angeline wins me over because she is clumsy enough to tangle her long, beautiful hair in her backpack. Then there is the day she helps Jamie get out of trouble in class, proving she just might be nice.

Another thing that Benton does well is incorporate quirky situations. Diary of a Wimpy Kid featured a rotten cheese that invoked fear in all the middle school boys. Well, for Jamie, it’s a peach. Greg (of Wimpy Kid fame again) could rate where everyone fell on a popularity scale. In Dear Dumb Diary, Isabella proves herself the expert in these matters. Jamie figures one day Isabella will be a Professor of Popularity Science. Now before you start calling foul and accusing Benton of stealing ideas, I need to tell you that Dear Dumb Diary came out in 2004 — three whole years before the first Wimpy Kid book. So, Wimpy Kid just made those ideas famous. Besides, Benton writes about plenty of other bizarre situations. For example, after Angeline’s hair gets tangled in her backpack, she buys a beret to cover the resulting bald patch. If you think that’s tame, wait until you read about who steals the clipped hair and what happens to it. Then there’s the cafeteria meatloaf…. But really, some incidents you have to read about for yourself.

At the end of my little chick lit binge, what most amazes me is that the book I like best was written by a guy. According to his bio, Jim Benton began his career in a custom design t-shirt shop where he started creating his own characters. He has also designed greeting cards and drew illustrations for newspapers and magazines. Today he operates his own studio. Basically, he seems like an artist. Yet he does pretty well getting into the heads of middle-school girls. The next time I feel a chick-lit attack coming on, I’ll know whose books to seek out.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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