Jamieson returns to the world of friendship, drama, and middle school with an unusual setting - the Renaissance Faire. Imogene has been homeschooled and basically lived at the faire where her parents work. But now she's ready for a new adventure - middle school! She's happy with her quirky clothes, renfaire friends, and especially thrilled with her new status as a squire. But when she gets to middle school, none of that matters. Her renfaire friend is picked on by all the cool kids, the teachers are mean, and she sticks out like a sore thumb. Things just get worse and worse until, in her desire to be accepted and fit in, she does something really awful.
Now Imogene is an outcast at school and in her own family. Her little brother hates her, she's lost her squire status, she has to be tutored by the renfaire workers she's looked down on, and her erstwhile friends - on both sides - will have nothing to do with her. It will take some serious thought about what it really means to be a brave knight - and a friend - for Imogene to try and repair some of her damaged relationships and fix the things she's done wrong.
Jamieson's colorful art is reminiscent of Telgemeier's style, one of the reasons it makes a great read-alike - but she has a style all her own. Imogene's everyday life is interspersed with her own imaginative journeys into a fantasy world where she, a brave knight, slays dragons. The scenes in the Renaissance Faire will attract both faire aficionados and those who've never been, showing plenty of fun activity, a diverse group of people who work together as a family, and helping readers see both sides of Imogene's dilemma as she tries to fit in at school and still be true to her family and herself.
Jamieson does a really good job showing the difficulties Imogene gets into and how bullying isn't always simple and clear-cut. Imogene's parents at first assume she's being bullied, since she's different than the other kids, and are shocked and horrified when they find out what Imogene has done. Imogene herself has some hard lessons to learn, including taking a realistic look at the choices she's made and where she's ended up. The other kids and adults are all shown as relatable, fallible people. Parents make mistakes just like kids and nobody is all good or all bad. The story also addresses the difficulties of going from a more casual, homeschooled environment to a public school. While I could wish that the "hippie homeschooler" stereotype hadn't been used, this is a more realistic picture of adapting to middle school that both homeschooled and traditionally schooled kids can relate to.
Verdict: Readers who love the drama and angst of fitting in, figuring out friendships, growing up, and dealing with social anxieties will love this latest book, especially with its helping of faire fantasy on the side. A great read-alike for Telgemeier and other slice-of-life middle school comics. Highly recommended.
ISBN: 9780525429982; Published 2017 by Dial books for young readers/Penguin; Galley provided by publisher at ALA; Review copy provided by publisher and donated to the library; Purchased for the library (yes, we need all the copies)