Friday, March 25, 2011

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Way before I went through my own angsty teen phase, and long before I had ever even heard of a guy named Holden Caulfield, I was absolutely devoted to another teenage wonder. He is the namesake of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾.

Living in lower-middle class England in the early 1980’s, Adrian is a curious guy just trying to figure out what do with his life. Adrian doesn’t want to be a punk like his friend Nigel, he doesn’t want any more spots on his face, and he definitely doesn’t want to take up drinking after hearing the disgusting noises he heard his parents make downstairs on New Years Eve. He thinks that he wants to be an intellectual, but he’s still not quite sure what that requires…possibly some poetry.

But nothing is easy for Adrian. He tries to help the elderly and finds himself slaving away for a drunk, grouchy, pervert who reeks of smoke (and might be a Communist!). He desperately wants to go out with the new girl in class, Pandora (call her “Box”), but that damn Nigel swoops in with his racing bike and his self-inflicted safety-pin ear piercing. Even when he tries to paint his room black (so he can be taken more seriously) Adrian still sees the freakin’ happy elf Noddy from his old wallpaper show through.

Adrian can’t catch a break, but he suffers with grace. A fantastic blend of good intentions and extreme naiveté, Adrian mostly remains an optimist simply because he doesn’t get what’s going on around him. Readers will pick up on all sorts of developments in Adrian’s life that he just doesn’t understand. His mother has been quite friendly with the next door neighbor, Mr. Lucas, lately. When Mrs. Lucas angrily moves out, Adrian writes, “Poor Mr. Lucas, now he will have to do his own washing and stuff.”

Because the book is broken up into days and not chapters, a reader can easily pick it up or put it down whenever they wish. The diary format is a familiar one, what with all the Wimpy Kids lately. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

Author Sue Townsend has accomplished an amazing feat with her character. Since its publication in 1982, there have been seven sequels written, all from Adrian’s point of view as he ages. I must admit that not all of these are as captivating as the first book, but several of them are nearly as funny. As Adrian grows older (all the way to 40 in the latest installment!) familiar faces fade away and new ones take their place. Reading these later volumes can be like meeting an old friend, you still remember what you like about the person, but a lot of time has passed.

Despite that, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ is wry, fun, and a ramshackle attempt at making sense of life. As much as I love Holden, my sympathies will always be with Mr. Mole.


lisa said...

allow me to air out my secret shame that i have never read this. but, thanks to you and your insightful review, i certainly shall.


Anonymous said...

Alas, the most recent book in the series, Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years, has not been published yet in the US, although lucky UK readers can even download it onto their Kindles. I finally found one online at a price I could afford; it was mailed from the UK but I still received it in a week or so.