Lou is just your average twelve-year-old – too shy to talk to the boy she has a crush on, tormented by the mean girls in school who don’t like her fashion choices, and stuck with a single mom who can’t cook and prefers to spend her time gaming rather than writing her science fiction novel. Then there’s her best friend Mina and the cute grad student who moves in next door that Lou thinks would be perfect for her mom.
In the first volume, Secret Diary, we never actually see Lou’s diary except on the endpapers, but we do learn a lot about her emotionally immature mom (who’s a lot more like a big sister than an authority figure), about Lou’s oddities that make her stick out in school (she prefers to design her own fashion – and makes interesting choices for presentations in front of the class), and her cynical best friend, Mina. Then there’s Lou’s crush, Tristan, her nasty grandmother Memaw, the kitten Lou rescues, and a tentative relationship between neighbor Richard and Lou’s mom. At the end of the story, Richard takes off before Lou’s mom can bring herself to say what she feels and Tristan moves without warning, leaving Lou devastated.
In the second volume, Summertime Blues, Lou is miserably contemplating a summer in a small boring village with nothing to do but listen to Memaw and her mother shriek at each other. Lou also forces her mom to work on her book by taking away all her gaming and electronics, hears from Tristan, and learns that maybe Memaw isn’t quite as bad as she seems – and the sleepy small village might be interesting after all, especially when she meets a strange boy named Paul.
The art is divided up into small panels, although the book itself is picture book size. The colors are glowing pastels with slick pink and purple panels for the excerpts from Lou’s mom’s novel. There are lots of comic style action exclamations, silly faces, and exaggerated emotions. It’s easy to follow and blends well with the text. The predominance of pink and soft hues is going to make this a hard sell for boys, but most girls, especially those who like slice of life, realistic stories will be eager to pick it up.
I’m a little doubtful about the content. It is a French import, so there are some cultural differences. Lou’s mom wears fairly skimpy clothes, occasionally flashes her undies when she’s hanging around home with just her daughter, and her science fiction epic looks a lot more like a rather poorly written romance novel, especially as she’s obviously writing her fantasies about Richard into it. In the second volume they encounter drunken soldiers on the train and Lou’s mom flashes back to how annoying a local suitor was when she was a teen – grabbing her breasts, among other things. She also gets drunk, which leads to a temporary truce with her mother. These are all minor things, but as this is one of those titles that are precisely poised in the middle – too old for most elementary kids, too young for most teenagers – it’s difficult to know where one would place it in the library.
On the other hand, it’s genuinely hilarious. I found myself laughing again and again at Neel’s witty jokes, from a little peek inside the heads of Lou’s mom, Lou, Richard, and Tristan to Lou coming home from school after a dramatic presentation at school: “This is weird. For creative arts class you didn’t get a grade, just the address of a child psychiatrist.” The second book is a little more serious, with Lou thinking a little more about how her behavior affects others and Lou’s mom finally deciding to grow up a little.
In conclusion, I’d say don’t risk it in a school library and put it in young adult if you have an extremely conservative town, but otherwise it’s a fun series that will be popular with 10-12 year olds. As always, Lerner’s library bound graphic novels are extremely expensive, but their paperbacks hold up well and are worth purchasing.
Lou!, vol. 1-2 Secret Diary and Summertime Blues
by Julien Neel
Vol. 1: Secret Diary, ISBN: 9780761387763
Vol. 2: Summertime Blues, ISBN: 9780761387770
Lerner/Graphic Universe, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 9-14