The Last Straw
A book review for parents
This realistic book is the third in the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series by Jeff Kinney and is published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
The Last Straw is an illustrated novel written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Once again Gregory "Greg" Heffley meanders through half a semester of middle school and captures his thoughts in a journal. Rodrick, his older brother, is still a bully; Manny, his younger brother, is still spoiled; and Rowley, his best friend, is someone Greg continues to use. A new character is Holly Hills. Greg pursues her — trying to talk with her, to ask her to skate and to call her on the phone — but to no avail.
Greg doesn't feel as though he was given good Christmas gifts, only books and clothes. When he is given a basketball hoop laundry hamper, his mother decides that he can start doing his own laundry. Greg is suddenly glad he received so many clothes for Christmas. He hopes his expanded wardrobe can get him through the second half of the school year without his having to do a load of laundry.
Much of this book is about Greg's relationship with his father. Greg's father is worried about his son because he catches Greg wearing his mother's fluffy bathrobe and doing other unmanly things. He signs his son up for soccer, but Greg lets the team down and embarrasses his father. His father signs him up for military school, which will begin with boot camp during the summer. To convince his father not to send him there, Greg joins the Boy Scouts. Greg would have signed up sooner if he had known how much this action impressed his dad.
When Greg's family attends a neighbor's party, his dad mentions that if Greg can get him out of having to act like a fool in front of the neighbor's child to try and make the baby laugh, which is expected of every guest and is the point of the party, he will owe Greg a favor.
Greg can't imagine anything he can do to help his dad. Then he sees Manny opening the baby's presents. When Greg tries to get one of the presents from his younger brother, it falls over a balcony and into a tree. As Greg tries to reach it, he becomes stuck in the tree, hanging onto a branch with his hands. His pants, which are Rodrick's because Greg didn't do laundry and didn't have a clean pair, fall to his ankles. Unfortunately, he is wearing his Wonder Woman Underoos, something he would never wear, except that he hasn't done laundry for a whole semester. Fortunately, Greg did all this right before his father was supposed to try to make the neighbor's baby laugh, and his father thinks Greg did it to get his father out of having to do something silly. As a result, his father says Greg doesn't have to go to boot camp.
The family goes to church on Easter. Manny's Easter bunny melts on Greg's pants, which make his pants look like Greg had an accident. Holly, the girl Greg likes, goes to his church. Greg asks his mother for a dollar so he can show off in front of Holly by putting it in the collection plate. When Greg realizes that he has put in $20 instead of $1, he tries to get change. When he can't, he hopes he gets extra points in heaven for giving that much money. Greg doesn't believe in hiding his good deeds. He's afraid that God and others will miss those hidden acts. When Greg calls Manny ploopy in church, Manny starts bawling, and the whole family has to walk down the center aisle to leave. His father tries to cover his face with a church bulletin.
Greg's father dislikes teens. He would be happier if all teens were sent to another planet. As Greg approaches his teen years, he knows his father wishes he were gone, also. Greg feels that his father constantly tries to compare his family with his boss's family. His dad sees the boss's kids doing constructive activities, but not his kids. His father does not understand why Greg is wearing his mother's very feminine robe (to keep warm) and is concerned when he catches him in the laundry basket beneath his mother's underwear (a place where Greg hides to catch the person stealing his lunch snacks). Neither talks about their motives, so each assumes the worst of the other: his father at Greg's actions with his mother's clothes and Greg as to why his father was stealing the kids' junk food snacks meant for their lunches. His father grows depressed because a neighbor's family, the Snellas, has a new baby. At the six-month mark, they invite all the neighbors over to try and make the baby laugh. The neighbors film this party and hope to get their videos on the "America's Funniest Families" TV show and win the grand prize.
Greg's father doesn't know much about his children. For example, he accidentally throws away the two strings that are the remnants of his youngest son's favorite blanket, which throws Manny into an uproar. Manny gets back at his father by playing with his father's prized Civil War set. When their father is tired of being shown up by the boss, he makes Rodrick and Greg do things, such as signing up for the SAT test and joining a soccer team. Dad takes Greg and Rodrick to the movies one night, not because he wants to do something with them; he wants to escape the house.
Greg's parents — especially his mother — embarrass him. Greg gets his mother to drop him and Rowley off in back of the school so no one will see him with her. When he leaves his backpack in the car, she brings it to him on her way to the gym and is wearing spandex. Greg's mother will only buy so much junk food during the school year. When someone in the family sneaks the junk food, Greg has to do without it at school. He hides to investigate and finds his father, who is supposed to have given up junk food, snacking. Greg's mother becomes annoyed with Greg because he tells on his younger brother for calling him "ploopy." Later, she comes down hard on Greg for making Manny cry when Greg calls him the made-up word ploopy. She bans that word from their home, just as she bans all profanity.
When Mrs. Craig leaves the classroom and doesn't put Patty Farrell in charge, the kids go crazy and some hit each other. Because her dictionary is stolen and the class has to stay in from recess until it's found, two large boys try to intimidate kids to confess, which they all promptly do. When Greg and Corey Lamb find the book, Corey puts it back on the teacher's desk just as Mrs. Craig walks in the room. She had said that there would be no consequences if the book was returned, but Corey has to stay in for recess for three weeks following that incident.
The principal forces students to dance at the school dance by saying that what they do on the dance floor will count for one-fifth of their physical education grade.
Mr. Litch is Greg's soccer coach. He is described as a "drill sergeant." Because of having him for a coach years before, Rodrick no longer goes out for any sports team.
Other Belief Systems
Greg believes that things turn out OK if he doesn't get caught. When he doesn't get to his mid-semester report card before his mother sees it, that's a bad thing. Rowley doesn't catch him opening the time capsule they buried together, so his betrayal of Rowley's trust is OK. Greg gets a kid in detention into more trouble, but since Greg is able to run home before that boy is released from school, it turns out OK, too.
Mild variations of words such as dag nab, heck, butt, stupid, wimp and jerk appear throughout. Greg's father is seen as saying, "@#$%!," when he breaks something, and Manny repeats it. Greg's mother bans all of those words from their home. The family has to put money in the "Swear Jar" when they mess up. Rodrick and Greg get around this by making up their own words that mean the banned words to them, such as spooky story and raspberry plastic tickle bear. A few bathroom words such as butt and heine also appear. Greg is also in his underwear or does underwear-related things a lot in this book. For example, Greg has to do his own laundry and doesn't. One day, he wears clothes out of his dirty laundry basket and a pair of dirty underpants sticks to the leg of his pants and falls off in the hallway at school. Another underwear incident happens when Rodrick pushes Greg out the door and locks him outside of their hotel room. Greg is only wearing his underwear. At the end of the book, Greg wears his only remaining clean pair of underwear, his Wonder Woman Underoos, a package he has never opened before this day. Unfortunately, he hangs from the branch of a tree, his pants drop to his ankles and the neighbors film him in them.
Rodrick shoots Greg with a paint gun when he bends over. Marcus and Darren, two Boy Scouts, fight and bite each other on the Boy Scouts' campout. Greg's father has to separate them and then take Darren to the emergency room. When Greg and Rowley meet a new cute girl at the beginning of the summer, Greg thinks about hitting Rowley over the head with a club so that Rowley doesn't get in Greg's way with her.
Greg is focused on Holly Hill in this book. The closest he comes to talking or kissing her is to give her a "Peace be with you" handshake at church and write in her yearbook as if he were Rowley.
Children's Choice Book Awards, 2010 (Author of the Year for this book and Dog Days, the next book in this series)
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Which merit badge do Greg and Rowley try to get?
What do they carve instead of wood?
What does Greg realize he can do instead of carving?
What does Greg make by getting the soap wet and squishing it into a shape?
How does he get his first merit badge?
- What does Uncle Joe do with Greg during church?
Why is Greg embarrassed that Uncle Joe held his hand?
Who was Greg trying to impress?
Tell about a situation you were in where you were trying to impress someone but couldn't.
- What word would you use to describe Greg's and his father's relationship?
How important is his father's good opinion of him?
How do you know this?
How important is your parent's good opinion of you?
- How did Greg save his father from being embarrassed?
Did he do it on purpose?
Why did he take credit for helping his father?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.