Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Big Splash

January 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm (Young Adult Lit)

These novels, which are at first glance fairly dissimilar, have a number of overlapping  areas of interest. Both of these novels are about popularity, and the importance, or not of being the “popular kid,” especially in the middle school age range. However, one of the things that was most interesting to me is the importance of moms to these characters. The moms in these two stories present different versions of the stereotype about what it means to be “mom.” Greg, the main character from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” has the quirky, involved mom. She is the character that is well meaning, probably reads parenting books, and consistently embarasses her children. Matt’s mom from “Big Splash,” on the other hand is the stereotypical overworked single parent. She is mostly an absence, rather than a presence in the story, and Matt seems to mother her as much as she mothers him, putting some of his own money in her emergency fund and staying awake until she comes home late at night. However, when he really needs someone to talk to, Matt’s mom forces, and almost tricks him into opening up and telling her about his problems, namely that he likes two girls and he doesn’s know which one to chose.

These characters both caught my attention because they were stereotypes. Why do young adult writers with otherwise complex characters use this easy out for adult characters? The other adult characters in these novels are filling somewhat stereotypical roles, but the moms are one of the most important adult characters. Does the use of stereotypes make the original characters, who are also children, stand out in higher relief because they are silhouetted against the stereotype? Or do these (adult) writers really think that this is how children relate to adults? Some combination of the two?

My suspicion is that these writers seem to really think that this is how children relate to adults. Matt Stevens’ mom is somewhat removed from the evocatively noir world of his middle school, but she does not seem to fit in with the use of the noir genre in the rest of the novel. Ultimately, as an adult reader, her problems were as interesting to me as Matt’s (and the most deeply unsatisfying part of the novel is that we don’t find out what happens to Matt’s dad or what is going on between his mom and her boss), however she is far less developed as a character. 

Greg’s stereotyped view of his mom is much more in keeping with the rest of the novel. Greg sees everything through a lens of finely tuned self-interest, so his vision of his mom as oblivious, dorky and ultimately highly embarassing is not as out of step with the rest of the novel as Matt’s mom is with the rest of his world. In some ways I think Jeff Kinney has committed the greater offense though, because while Matt’s mom has interesting problems of her own, even as a stereotype, Greg’s mom is just a stereotype, and Kinney uses that stereotype to get in several cheap shots about parenting and the type of parents that are so widespread in the media today.

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