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Book Review

This slice-of-life novel by Rachel Renee Russell is the first in the " Dork Diaries" series published by Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division. This illustrated book is set up as if this were the narrator's diary.

Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life is written for kids ages 9 to 13 years. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Now that her dad's bug extermination company has a contract with the prestigious Westchester County Day Middle School, 14-year-old Nikki has started attending on a scholarship. Nikki struggles to fit in since she doesn't own expensive clothes or a fancy cellphone. It doesn't help that her locker is right next to MacKenzie Hollister, the most popular — and also meanest — girl in the eighth grade.

While MacKenzie and her friends belittle everyone's clothes, hair, acne, make-up, etc., MacKenzie seems to have a special dislike for Nikki. She purposely and publicly humiliates Nikki by pretending to invite her to an epic birthday bash and then mocking her because the invitation was meant for another girl. She also gives Nikki a hard time because Nikki's father is an exterminator with a huge bug on the top of his vehicle.

Nikki, an aspiring artist, longs to sign up for the school's art contest with its $500 prize. But whenever she gets near the office to pick up an entry form, MacKenzie thwarts her plans. MacKenzie, who fancies herself a future fashion designer, throws her money into creating a large, elaborate entry.

On one of her attempts to pick up an entry form, Nikki chickens out and signs up to help as a library book shelver. In this job, she meets Chloe and Zoey, two nutty but sweet girls, who love to read and take their library work seriously. Chloe and Zoey, along with the cute school photographer, Brandon, rescue Nikki after several of MacKenzie's pranks humiliate her.

Chloe and Zoey learn that a few hardworking library assistants will be chosen to attend a week-long field trip in New York for National Library Week. They're determined to be selected. When other students start coveting the ink pen tattoos Nikki has made for Chloe and Zoey, the girls decide to urge people to donate books in exchange for Nikki's body art. While the book drive goes well, and everyone is impressed with Nikki's talent, she's quickly burned out by the huge number of people on her tattoo waiting list. Her exhaustion culminates in oversleeping on the day of an important test and accidentally destroying the art project she'd finally managed to enter in the art contest. Defeated, she decides that since people just want her for her skills, she's going to quit giving tattoos and transfer schools.

When she takes her parents in to fill out the transfer paperwork, she discovers Chloe, Zoey and Brandon have secretly entered her work in the art contest, but not her original project. Instead, they've photographed various students' tattoos and have displayed them. Not only has Nikki won the art contest and enraged MacKenzie, she's discovered she has friends who care about her.

Christian Beliefs

Nikki prays hard all through her difficult geometry test, asking for help to pass it and apologizing for snoozing in church.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Nikki depicts her mom as clueless because she doesn't understand Nikki's cellphone needs and she falls for Nikki's fake vomiting act. Both of Nikki's parents appear to be involved and concerned. When they sense she's struggling at her new school, they leave affirming messages around the house for her. They also support her efforts to improve her artistic abilities.


The words sucked, butt and the abbreviation OMG are used frequently. Nikki talks about watching Tyra Banks cursing at America's Top Model contestants and calling them "fat, worthless skanks."


Nikki says there are many celebrity party girls who regularly forget to wear undies but wouldn't be caught dead without their cellphones.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • How does Nikki behave toward and talk about her mom?
  • When is her perspective correct and when is it incorrect?
  • In what ways does Nikki's mom try to support and encourage her?
  • What does the Bible say about how kids should treat their parents?

  • What are some of the lies Nikki tells to her family members?

  • Why does she feel the need to be dishonest?
  • How could she solve some of these problems without lying?
  • Why is it important for you to be honest?
  • How does dishonesty hurt you over time, even when it helps you in the moment?

  • How did Nikki show that people are more important than things?

  • Would you have given up an education at a prestigious school if you didn't have friends?
  • How do friends help make your day better?
  • How can you work toward being a friend to others to help them through their day?

Additional Comments/Notes

Cheating: Nikki mentions cheating on a test in first grade and winning a scholastic award because of her good score. There are no bad consequences for her actions

Lying: To avoid going to school, Nikki concocts an elaborate fake vomit mixture (and includes the recipe in her diary). She pours it on herself and tells her mom she threw up. She lies to her little sister to get her out of MacKenzie's house before MacKenzie discovers Nikki's dad is an exterminator. MacKenzie tells lies at school to protect her reputation. Nikki's friends fabricate a book donation drive on the spot. Though Nikki considers it sort of a lie, she says it's better to have friends that can hook you up with cute guys than friends who are brutally honest.

Pop culture references: Nikki is a big fan of model Tyra Banks. Chloe says she learned from reading Twilight that forbidden love, obsession and sacrifice could be very messy things.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views 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.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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