The trials of middle school get a medieval twist in All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, the newest middle grade graphic novel from the author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl.
Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind–she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.
I’m a huge fan of Victoria’s work, so it was no surprise that I found All’s Faire in Middle School so utterly delightful — but let me tell you some of what makes it so great.
First, Vicky has nailed the middle school experience. The ongoing battle to be yourself, but also fit in. The constant struggle to figure out what’s cool, what isn’t, and the fine line between the two that can change so quickly. All the anxieties Imogene experiences were so so familiar to me, even though my own situation in middle school was vastly different. Some things are just universal – and the universal experience of middle school is captured so perfectly here.
So too does Victoria capture the essence of life’s drama when you are eleven years old. Sure, Impy’s reactions may seem extreme in some situations – but when I was that age? Oh, heck yeah, it mattered immensely. Having the right shoes, the right pants. Who you ate lunch with and whose parties you were invited to. The world is so much smaller and more intense in middle school.
Part of what makes All’s Faire in Middle School so extra special is the twist of the Renaissance Faire itself. Now, I love Ren Faires — but even so, the book lovingly showcases the work that goes into a Ren Faire, and the familial bond formed by the people who run them. Impy doesn’t just have her parents and her brother — she has a whole extended family rooting for her and helping her to succeed.
The real charm of All’s Faire in Middle School is seeing Victoria bring the story to life through her illustrations. Much of the story is even told without words – as we see things happen, and see the emotions cross a character’s face. Her drawings are so charming and evocative. Some of my favorite moments in the book feature Impy’s little bother and his wacky hijinks, which were often just little moments in the background of an illustration.
There is just so much to love about All’s Faire in Middle School – whether you’re a student in or about to start middle school (and you need some encouraging reading material), or an adult who survived it already. Look for it in stores September 5th.