Lou, vol. 3-4: Down in the Dumps and The Perfect Summer

Down in the dumpsIn the first two volumes, Lou and her mom dealt with first love, growing relationships, a dismal summer with the grumpy Memaw, and acquired a kitten. Now Lou’s mom has finally sold her book and has a steady relationship with Richard, while Lou is ready to tackle being a teenager, she hopes.

The opening endpapers of the third volume, Down in the Dumps, are set as a board game. They recap the events of the previous two books and end with Lou turning thirteen. The tone of this book is reflective and focuses on the difficult changes Lou and her best friend Mina face. For the first time, they’re in different classes and, after a misunderstanding, they get stuck with two different girls who aren’t at all their type. Mary Emily never stops talking and it’s hard to get Karen to say anything. The friendship squabbles of the girls are the surface story, but underneath and threaded through the art is the theme of change and growing pains. Lou is scared, worried, and depressed, but with the help of old and new friends, her mom, and Richard, she struggles through and the story ends on a high point with a ridiculous party in the junkyard and the prospect of a summer at the beach. The final endpapers profile Lou’s new friends, Mary Emily and Karen.

The fourth volume, The Perfect Summer, returns to the lighter tone of the first two books, but adds in lots of romantic angst. Lou and Mina are thrilled to be spending the summer at Mary Emily’s fancy beach house and are only slightly daunted by Mary Emily’s relentless dislike of her mother, her father’s indifference, and Karen’s refusal to get into the spirit of summer. Lou is all ready to try out some boy hunting skills with the hot boys she and Mary Emily have found when she sees someone who looks familiar — Tristan, her crush from the first book. From there on out it’s a wild ride as Lou tries to figure out what whether she’s still interested in Tristan or not, if she cares that he seems to be interested in Mary Emily, and whether she should make a move on Paul, the odd but super nice boy she met at her grandmother’s last summer. While Lou is having a crazy summer at the beach, her mom is going on her first book tour with Richard and it’s not quite what she expected. It all ends with a wild pool party and laughter. Lou is back at home, ready for fourteen, with special memories of a wonderful summer.

Neel stays with the mixture of differently-sized panels, pastel colors, and clever use of small details in these further adventures. Down in the Dumps features lots of panels with soft browns and grays, showing Lou’s struggle with the many changes in her life. There are moments of cartoon goofiness, as Lou does a crazy dance with her mom and Richard in a bookstore to celebrate her book release, and a whole page of tiny panels involving an octopus. Sepia-toned panels show glimpses back into Lou’s childhood and her mom’s youth, while Lou’s feverish dreams are in blazing reds and pinks. The Perfect Summer shows the mercurial changes in the characters’ romantic relationships and emotions with a rapid change of background shades. One page will be full of glowing sun and busy details of Lou’s exciting summer, then a sudden flip to relentless gray as Lou’s mom realizes her book tour isn’t all she expected. The boys’ discussions of girls are hilariously shown in cool blue as they try to pretend they’re experienced in a subject they clearly don’t know much about. The characters are all clearly defined, wearing mostly the same clothing and hairstyles throughout the story, but their body language and facial expression keeps the story fresh and moving, even when it’s just talking (or grimacing) heads.

The first two titles were on the line between middle grade and teen, but I’d put these in young adult, as Lou is thirteen. Perfect Summer has kissing, lots of discussion of dating, relationships, and the girls wear skimpy bikinis in most of the pool scenes. Paul’s age is discussed for the first time and we discover that he’s actually several years older than Lou, but as he clearly sees her as a fun little sister, it’s not an issue. The mild innuendo makes it a doubtful choice for a school library, but it should be fine in a public library.

This series will have a lot of appeal to preteen and young teen girls who want a story with lots of drama, humor, and romance, but aren’t ready for anything too serious yet. The treatment of Lou’s friendship troubles and mild depression are light but taken seriously and there are lots of gentle reminders that things change and feelings aren’t permanent. I enjoyed the continuation of Lou’s experience and her growing pains are realistic but given a humorous treatment that will appeal to young readers. Hand this series to fans of Amelia Rules and Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Drama.

Lou, vol. 3-4: Down in the Dumps and The Perfect Summer
by Julien Neel
Vol. 3: Down in the Dumps, ISBN: 9780761387794
Vol. 4: The Perfect Summer, ISBN: 9780761387800
Lerner Graphic Universe, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: