Thursday, September 27, 2012

Amelia Rules, Volume 8 - Her Permanent Record - A Review

Her Permanent Record is the eighth and reportedly final book in the excellent Amelia Rules! series by Jimmy Gownley.  I've written before about my love of this series and my belief that is easily the greatest graphic novel series aimed at juvenile readers in the history of graphic literature.  Hyperbolic much?  Yes, but I stand by that statement.

As this book opens, things are changing again for Amelia McBride but this time the change is for the better.  Amelia's popular at school, thanks to her joining the cheerleading squad.  The principal sees her as having turned around - a step up from his previous belief that she was incorrigible hellspawn.  She's even become a celebrity by proxy, after her friend - aspiring superhero Reggie - saves a life while in costume, triggering a nation-wide "real" superhero craze as tons of tweens form their own superhero groups in imitation of Amelia's team G.A.S.P. (Gathering of Awesome Super Pals).

But things aren't all sunshine and roses, as a vicious tell-all book by an ex-boyfriend sends Amelia's beloved aunt Tanner - an ex-rocker whose career was starting to turn around - into hiding.  Worse than that, nobody except Amelia seems to believe that Tanner may be in serious trouble or that Amelia knows where to find her.  In the end, Amelia will learn that sometimes doing the right thing means breaking the rules, that kids can be smarter than adults and that it doesn't matter what people say about you - whether it be to your face, behind your back or on your permanent record.

This may be the oddest analogy ever, but this book reminded me of a classic George Carlin routine about the dangers of putting too much structure into the lives of children.  In his You Are All Diseased album, Carlin rallied against parents who ferry their children from organized activity to organized activity without giving them the time to imagine and play on their own.  Carlin understood, as Gownley does, the great paradox of American culture.  We spend so much time pushing our children towards maturity, telling them to "grow-up" and to quit being childish only to be horrified as our pre-teens start pushing themselves to become more adult-like.  I'm speaking not only in terms of babies having babies but also of the kids who are so worried about succeeding at their extra-circular activities that the develop ulcers before they're old enough to drive.

Gownley expresses this message with surprising subtlety.  In what I found to be the high-point of the book, Reggie gives a Braveheart-style speech to an assemblage of his followers and rages against the adult world that  forces children to participate in activities that require them to dress the same, act the same and treat fun and games as serious business.  There is no small irony that Reggie - usually the most childish character in the main cast - grows to be held up as an example of good behavior by the adult world when all of Reggie's positive traits come from his childish desire to be a superhero.

Like the thematic wise fool, Reggie understands things that the people around him do not.  There is precious little point in being a child if one is denied the freedom to be childish and we must face the future with hope in our hearts.  And while we may have to grow-up someday, we should still strive to take joy in the simple things and not care what other people say about us.

And yes, the irony that I'm singing the virtues of that message in a critical review is not lost upon me. :)

I'm sad to see Amelia Rules! end but I cannot imagine a better or more fitting conclusion than this story.  But while this may be the end of Amelia McBride's adventures, I hope this is not the end for Jimmy Gownley's career as an author or artist.  He is too valuable a creator to let ride off into the sunset.  Let us see something new and equally amazing and let us see it soon!

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