Peter Campbell on Adrian Mole (LRB, 5 December 1985):

Children take to the books partly, I gather, because the disgusting details of Adrian’s spots, the mention of his wet dreams and of his regular measuring of his ‘thing’, break taboos. But more because – despite his hypochondria, his naff intellectual ambitions, his deeply untrendy tastes – he is a hero who suffers as they suffer. Just at the moment when it has, to an unparalleled degree, become open to inspection, the adult world turns out to have nothing to offer but pain, betrayal and embarrassment. The epigraph to The Secret Diary is taken from Sons and Lovers: ‘Paul walked with something screwed up tight inside him... yet he chatted away with his mother. He would never have confessed to her how he suffered over these things and she only partly guessed.’ The worst insults, the ones which start fights and feuds, are still slights on your family – above all, on your mother’s virtue. For boys who have to keep fatally embarrassing facts about home and parents secret, Adrian’s torments are cathartic.