Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is no doubt one of the most iconic children's book series of the 21st century. This line of novel/graphic novel/comic strip hybrid titles launched its first entry back in 2007. It instantly became a smash-hit, with subsequent sequels making the brand one of the most beloved among middle-grade readers throughout the mid-to-late-2000s. On top of that, the series has maintained its relevance to this very day, with recent entries still regularly topping bestseller lists and a 15th mainline book set to arrive later this year. That being said, while Diary of a Wimpy Kid has certainly been a massive commercial success, there's an argument to be made that it could have been an even greater creative success than it already is had the books allowed their main protagonist to actually grow up, rather than keep him in middle school for the past 13 years.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series follows Greg Heffley, a young boy faced with the trials and tribulations of middle school. While Greg -- by design -- could often be pretty unlikeable (if not outright detestable), his stories were still incredibly easy to relate to. The early books especially did a fantastic job of capturing the sheer awkwardness, frustration, and social fear that go hand-in-hand with the transition from childhood to adolescence.

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What's more, if you were lucky enough to actually be starting middle school around the time the books first came out, you sort of got to read as the characters grew up with you. And the first few entries in the series actually adhered to a rather cohesive timeline. Diary of a Wimpy Kid consists of Greg's entire sixth-grade year. The first sequel, Rodrick Rules, then covers the first semester of his seventh-grade year, while The Last Straw covers the back half of seventh-grade. Dog Days picks things up during summer vacation after seventh-grade, before The Ugly Truth sees Greg begin eighth grade. It's after this point that things start to get a tad inconsistent.


In Cabin Fever, Greg seems to be in the middle of his winter break after the first half of eighth grade. He returns to school early the next calendar year in The Third Wheel, as evidenced by the Valentine's Day motif. Greg seemingly finishes eighth grade in Hard Luck (we're up to four books for a single school year at this point, mind you), before going on summer vacation in The Long Haul ahead of starting high school. Except… he didn't actually move on, did he? When Old School picks up the story, Greg is right back in middle school, complete with a self-aware reference to how he's going to be there "forever." Sure enough, he has remained in middle school throughout Double Down, The Getaway, The Meltdown, Wrecking Ball, and, presumably, the upcoming Deep End.

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The series has obviously moved from its semi-realistic continuity to a floating timeline, with Greg going the way of cartoon characters like Bart Simpson, seemingly destined to remain more or less the same age forever. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it does represent a larger problem with the recent Wimpy Kid books: the middle school setting is wearing a bit thin.

As dramatic as middle school happenings can seem when you're younger, there's only so many stories that can be pulled from a three-year period in which you're not even old enough to drive. As such, Greg has noticeably been in a state of arrested development for quite some time now, as evidenced by how the Wimpy Kid books have rehashed certain plot points. Granted, the aforementioned pre-teen drama can often feel cyclical. However, there are only so many times you can read about Greg and his best friend Rowley having a fight, ending their friendship, then making up and becoming friends again before it starts to lose its impact.

Furthermore, while the early books featured conflicts that were exaggerated for comedic effect but still very relatable, the more recent entries have definitely gotten more gimmicky. Take, for example, the Heffley family getting a pet pig, or Greg developing a quasi-religious obsession with a Magic 8-Ball. This is especially disappointing when there was a surefire, far more organic way to keep Greg's stories fresh, interesting, and relatable to adolescent readers: letting him go to high school.

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While the middle school setting is a big part of the books' identity, Greg being forever bound to a single stage of his life robs him of legitimate character growth. We see him grow and change a little bit, sure, but he's largely the same person he was when the series began over a decade ago. If the series had sent him to the next level of public education after The Long Haul, or preferably even sooner, it would have been a great opportunity to truly take the character out of his comfort zone and further develop him in meaningful ways.

Throw Greg into a brand-new school and remind him what it's like to be the new blood at the bottom of the pecking order. Have Greg's friends who cut him out stick to their guns, so he is forced to work on his narcissistic traits if he wants to be accepted again. Let him take driver's ed or submit college applications and make him realize that the way he conducted himself throughout middle school isn't going to cut it anymore. Give him more mature conflicts like peer pressure or his first real job. Let Greg grow up. Because the real-life kids leaving middle school and moving on to the next stage of their life deserve the same awkward levity Kinney's books brought to their middle school years.

The very best pieces of children's media are the ones that grow with the audience, dealing with increasingly mature plots and themes as the fans get older, with arguably the most famous example being the Harry Potter series. Diary of a Wimpy Kid very well could have gone a similar route had it not decided to keep Greg in middle school for all eternity. After all, kids don't stop growing and changing after they leave the eighth grade. New entries could have offered readers who were themselves starting high school something they could continue to relate to. And as for readers still in middle school, well, it's not like the early books have gone anywhere. They're still readily available, still great and still timeless (another aspect that's sort of been lost on recent releases).

Make no mistake, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is still a quality series of middle-grade books. Their approach to humor has certainly changed, but they're still not bad by any means. That said, contradicting the continuity and leaving Greg to tread water in middle school feels like a missed opportunity, especially when letting him move on could have -- and could still -- open a whole world of new creative possibilities, as well as allow adolescent readers to stay connected to the Wimpy world just a little longer.

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