"Amelia Rules, v.4: When The Past Is A Present"
Written and Illustrated by Jimmy Gownley
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2010)
This is the fourth volume in the "Amelia Rules" graphic novel series, about a headstrong young girl who lives in a bucolic suburb and plays with her friends, who are into playing "superhero," but maybe a little more into it than most kids would be. The new book starts with Amelia and her peeps moving up into fifth grade, while their problems and perspectives begin shifting along with them.
This book follows a delicious initial three-volume story arc that had an air of finality to it, and while we are glad to see Amelia and her friends again, cartoonist Jimmy Gownley has to do a little extra lifting to get the series started up again. A couple of the episodes seem a little forced, exploring big, boldly defined, occasionally dark themes that interrupt the soft, slow flow of the series. One story stands out, in which one girl's father, a captain in the Marines, is deployed abroad (to an unnamed country) and while the girl's heart breaks, the world still doesn't stop. It's a sentimental, self-consciously topical story, but in the end, emotionally resonant and doubtless appreciated by readers with connections to the military. Also of note is the title story, "When The Past Is A Present," in which Gownley shows off his skills as a graphic artist, mimicking various old newspaper strips -- "Gasoline Alley," "Brenda Starr," "Terry And The Pirates," "Peanuts" -- while telling Amelia's family history, then cleverly bringing it all together in a puzzle in the final pages. The artistic triumph is both intuitive and technical, and builds on the series' themes of nostalgic regret, bittersweet acceptance and playful adventurousness... Meanwhile, Amelia goes out on a date (with a boy! and dancing!) and slowly becomes more reflective about her life and her relationships t family and friends. Another fine volume in this classy comicbook series. (Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain children's book reviews)