Bestselling author James Patterson has tried something different with Homeroom Diaries, his first highly illustrated ‘diary fiction’ story for teens. It is an interesting teen read – both in content and format. It is illustrated in the way usually reserved for younger readers, but the subject matter is definitely teenage. Cuckoo is the self-deprecating name the protagonist has given herself. She is not long back at school after her unreliable mother disappears. At the mercy of child services, she has recently been released from a brief sojourn in the local mental hospital.
When she returns to school, her supportive friends help her along. The friends all have stereotypical characteristics and nicknames like Brainzilla and Zitsy (I guess you can work out what their social challenges are) and of course the Asian girl who is not academic. These misfit kids form their own social clique and face the challenges together. In a very short time frame there are many challenges to overcome – attempted rape, cyber-bullying, mental illness, suicide, and carer death. That none of these subjects are dealt with in any detail is both the success an failure of this book. The superficiality of these issues is why the book is fun and lighthearted and gives a strong message of attitudes-and-friends-can-overcome-anything. And that is positive. The slightly negative side is that they do actually just brush off these events and not much is resolved or delved into.
The light approach to some serious subjects is not at all like much of the teen literature on offer for this age group, which is exactly why many readers will love it. I found the characters endearing and the story well paced. The illustrations are very detailed and add a lot to the book, although at first I found them a little distracting. By the end of the book I was reading them as much as the text.
I think many teen readers, particularly girls, will enjoy this book.