Lou! #1: Secret Diary. by Julien Neel. Translated from French by Carol Klio Burrell. April 1, 2012. Lerner Publishing Group. 48 pages. ISBN: 9780761387763
In her secret diary, written in full-color graphic novel style, Lou records her feelings for her cute neighbor, Tristan, her mother's obsession with video games, and her life-long friendship with level-headed serious-minded Mina. Though each page of the book focuses on a particular moment in time, almost like a comic strip, many of the panels address common threads that run through the entire book. These threads include the absence of Lou's father, Lou's adoption of a smelly cat, and the relationship between Lou, her laidback mom, and her strict grandmother. The book was originally published in French in 2004, but will be available in English in the U.S. beginning in April 2012.
It would be impossible for me to review this book without comparing it to the Amelia Rules series because there are so many similarities. Both Lou and Amelia are spunky, blonde tween girls facing new challenges and emotions as adolescence begins. Both also deal with absent fathers and with unexpected crushes. Both are, overall, well-developed lovable characters at the center of unique and interesting universes. I have to admit, though, that I think I like Lou better.
There are so many things I loved about Secret Diary. I think the way Julien Neel draws Lou's mother with her hair always in her eyes is a stroke of genius. Her looks could not suit her personality any better. The relationship between Lou and her mom is also one of the strongest mother/daughter relationships I've read in tween fiction of any kind. They truly like each other, even when they drive each other crazy, and their friendship as well as their parent/child encounters ring very true to real life. The book is also just hilarious at certain points. I don't often laugh out loud when I'm reading, but this book gave me the giggles many times throughout, and usually with thoughtful and clever punchlines, not easy or immature jokes. I also really enjoyed the way Lou's romantic encounter with Tristan and her mom's romantic encounter with the new cute guy next door parallel each other and give them yet another enjoyable bonding experience.
Graphic novels can be hit or miss for me, but this one is a definite hit not to be missed. Secret Diary is reminiscent of Peanuts, For Better or For Worse, Amelia Rules, Smile, Popularity Papers, and Dear Dumb Diary, but with a sense of humor and style of storytelling that set it apart as its own creation. I highly recommend it to girls in grades 5 to 8 who are into graphic novels and love to laugh. They'll reach the cliffhanger ending of Secret Diary begging for more and eager to get their hands on book two, Summertime Blues, also available this April.
The French Disney channel airs a cartoon based on the Lou books, the trailer for which is below:
Clips of the show are on YouTube as well, and they are quite entertaining, even for someone like me who doesn't speak French. Also worth checking out are Julien Neel's blog (again, written in French) and my review of Nola's Worlds: Changing Moon, another French graphic novel import translated by Carol Klio Burrell.
I received a digital ARC of Secret Diary from my local public library.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.