Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life

Dork Diaries 1I read the second Dork Diaries book before I read Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life, and I think I’m glad I read them out of order. The first book fills in some minor gaps for me—I now know that Nikki is new to her private middle school and that she’s there on scholarship because her father’s company got the exclusive pest control contract. This book explains the beginnings of Nikki’s friendship with Chloe and Zoey, her crush on Brandon, and her antagonistic relationship with MacKenzie. But I had no trouble following the second book without knowing all of these details (for more on the feel of the series in general, please see my review of Dork Diaries 2: Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl).

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the first book, but it was just a little too much for my taste—too much slap stick, too much referencing of pop culture, too much angst. Those things are in the second book as well, but scaled back just a bit, to a level I could handle better. (Note: my 13 year old daughter had no such problems. She was glad to get the background and enjoyed the book.)

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Moral Ambiguity

Nikki finds a hearing aid that she knows belongs to her neighbor. She does try to return it, but when the neighbor can’t understand her and takes offense, Nikki keeps the hearing aid. She spray paints it black to make it look like a cell phone ear piece with the intention of pretending she has a cell phone. She ends up being allergic to the paint and gets a rash, which she somehow manages to blame on her mother. Wanting to stay home from school until her ear heals, she creates “vomit”—a recipe is included in case you want to make your own—and pours it down the front of her shirt. The ruse works and her mom lets her stay home.

There are a variety of other questionable choices that Nikki makes. She’s not a bad kid, but she’s very self-centered and doesn’t really think about how her actions might affect others. She doesn’t mind embroidering the truth to suit her purposes and she frequently blames others for things that are her doing.

My daughter appreciated the many clever insults that Nikki delivers, followed by “but I said it in my head so no one heard it but me.” On one level, it’s a sign that she’s too nervous to speak up. On another, it’s an acknowledgment that most of us have an internal voice that’s much snarkier than we’re comfortable being externally—which is probably a good thing.

Humorous Violence

It’s all part of jokes, but there are mentions of a dead body and a boy taking his eye out and other things along those lines.

Trust and Friendship

Nikki is just starting to figure out who her friends are. She isn’t actually all that fond of Chloe and Zoey at first—she thinks they’re freaks who care way too much about books. They have their own foibles—they take advantage of Nikki’s artistic skill without thinking too much about what it does to her. In the end, they and Brandon really come through for Nikki, and she’s absolutely shocked that anyone her age would do something so nice for her.


Nikki thinks very little of her family. Her little sister is nothing but annoying. Her mom is out of touch. Her father is embarrassing. If you’re not Nikki, though, you’ll see a family that loves each other.


Chloe and Zoey love to read. Nikki only loves to draw. She doesn’t like to read. She doesn’t like or understand math. The only thing she cares about in science is that Brandon is her lab partner. She’s pretty proudly anti-academic.

Creating Problems

Yeah, some things go poorly for Nikki. But there’s no bad situation that she can’t make worse, either through bad choices, dishonesty, or her perception of what’s happening and why. MacKenzie isn’t a nice girl, by any stretch of the imagination. However, she doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as Nikki makes her out to be.


It’s fairly mild, but phrases like “fat skank” are used as insults—it’s worth noting it’s an insult that was on TV and it’s not addressed toward any of the characters in the book. Nevertheless, as a mother it made me raise an eyebrow.

Pop Culture References

Well placed references can draw a reader into the world of the characters, but there are SO MANY in this book that it feels very dated. It feels like there was no expectation that anyone would be reading it a year after it was published. A celebrity marriage is mentioned which ended a few years ago. A singer who’s mentioned as part of a joke died of an overdose a while back. Not only do the references seem in slightly bad taste now, but modern tween readers might not even get the references (I know my duaghter missed a lot of them).


If I’d started with this book, I might have dismissed the rest of the series. I’m glad to know that almost immediately the series starts to improve. But the first book is amusing with its illustrations and handwritten font. If you read this one and like it at all, I strongly recommend continuing on. Or you can skip this one and start with the second book without any problem. This is good for maybe 10 and up—much younger and they might not identify with the middle school situations. It’s great for reluctant readers and as a fun break for older readers.


Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell
Published in 2009 by Aladdin
First in the Dork Diaries series
Borrowed through  my daughter’s school library

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