After winning a Newbery Honor award for her Roller Girl
, author and illustrator Victoria Jamieson published the 2017 graphic novel All's Faire in Middle School
, which is the story of a homeschooled preteen adjusting to public middle school. After spending many years working and living near the Renaissance Faire where her parents work, the protagonist has to navigate the tricky waters of mean girls who pretend to be friends, real friends who aren’t part of the popular crowd, and how to fit in when you don’t feel like you belong.
Using the fantasy elements that the Renaissance Faire setting introduces, Jamieson’s illustrations bring in elements of Elizabethan folklore. The whole story is framed by the legend of St. George and the Dragon, as the novel’s main character sees herself at times as different characters in this myth. As she identifies in turn with the brave knight, the evil dragon, the lonely hermit, and the selfless princess, she learns to stand up for what’s right and to find her own path through difficulties.
Eleven-year-old Imogene Vega (whose nickname is Impy) has never known much outside the Florida Renaissance Faire where her brown-skinned dad plays the resident evil knight, her lighter skinned mom runs a shop, and the family’s adult friends play other costumed roles. Impy is homeschooled, and helps her parents with their jobs during the fair season. Recently, she’s been promoted to “squire,” which means that on the weekends she can help with the joust, banter with the little kids, and practice Elizabethan curses like “lumpish reeling-ripe jolt-head” and “loggerheaded rump-fed giglet.”
But Impy takes her training as a squire very seriously, committing herself wholeheartedly to the concept of knightly chivalry, which relies on bravery and good deeds. She decides that in order to bring chivalric virtues into her real life, she should try to go to regular school. This means that her very first year of public school will be sixth grade—the beginning of middle school.
Impy’s first day in school seems to go well. Impy meets a boy she develops a crush on, and at lunch, popular girl Mika invites her to sit at the cool kids’ table, where Mika’s friends Emily and Sasha seem genuinely nice: complimenting Impy’s thrift store clothes and asking details about what the Renaissance Faire is like. That weekend, Impy meets another girl from school—the shy and nerdy Anita, who comes to the fair often with her dad. Anita warns Impy that Mika and her friends are mean, and that if Impy remains friends with them, then she can’t acknowledge Anita in school. Impy is confused by Anita’s warning and doesn’t really believe her.
In general, school is hard and stressful for Impy, who feels most at home when she comes back to the Faire at the end of the day. Soon, everything starts to go wrong in predictable, but still terrible ways. Academically, she can’t quite figure out what’s expected of her after so many years of homeschooling. And then, Mika and her friends turn on Impy, mocking her family’s poverty and odd lifestyle, the way she dresses, and her small apartment.
Furious at this betrayal, and also angry that her parents seem to spend much more attention on her six-year-old brother Felix than her, Impy covers a notebook with cruel drawings making fun of everyone she thinks has done her wrong. But this secret book doesn’t stay secret for long—and soon, Impy sees that she has managed to alienate everyone in her life who is important to her.
The school administration starts to investigate the notebook, and the tangled web of Impy’s response to the bullying she experienced is finally revealed. Still, her mother, Felix, and Anita are deeply unhappy to see what Impy has drawn about them in the notebook. No matter how much she apologizes, she can’t seem to get them to forgive her. Book readers note critically at this point in the book that nothing seems to happen to the bullies themselves, either for their taunts, or for the fact that they stole and made public Impy’s drawings.
Impy feels awful. Is she actually the dragon from the St. George myth and not the brave knight? But by the end of the novel what she ends up realizing is that true bravery is making amends for what you’ve done wrong, not just apologizing. Impy stands up to Mika, makes up with Anita, figures out a way to get back in Felix’s good graces, and figures out just how to manage middle school after all.