Today’s two biggest role models for young readers are total wusses

Wimp Nation.
Wimp Nation.
Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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Pre-pubescent loser Greg Heffley is irreverent, whiny, and mediocre in school. He has few moral scruples, and his main activities are sarcasm and complaining. Hardly the kind of friend you’d want for your kids, or even for yourself, yet he’s one of the most popular characters in fiction.

Greg is the star of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, the bestselling kids’ books by Jeff Kinney. And he is one of two highly anticipated wusses of the year.

The other is Albus Severus Potter, beleaguered son of the world’s most famous boy wizard.

In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play script released last month, Albus navigates a world in which he’s widely seen as a disappointment to his family. In JK Rowling’s original series, his father Harry was brave, head-strong, and naturally talented at magic. Albus, meanwhile, sucks at everything he sets his hand to.

Albus’s central inner conflict revolves around feeling like a perpetual let-down to the Potter name, which has become synonymous with heroism. As his only friend Scorpius, the nerdy loser son of Harry’s former nemesis, Draco Malfoy, tells him: “That’s what we do. We mess things up. We lose. We’re losers, true and total losers. Haven’t you realized that yet?”

Greg, star of the Wimpy Kid series, is just as open about his mediocrity. As he narrates in the book Hard Luck, he even depends on his best friend to write his homework for him, because “it really hurts my hand when I write in cursive for too long.”

Together, these two lame dudes are sweeping the English-speaking world. In North America, the new Potter book pushed more than 3.3 million copies in its first two weeks and has hovered at the No. 1 spot on Amazon’s book bestseller list since February, months ahead of its release.

Meanwhile, at least one book from the Wimpy Kid series has been a top 20 book on Amazon every year since 2009. A million people tuned in live in April to watch Kinney reveal the cover of the 11th book in the series, which will come out in November. There are 165 million copies in print worldwide.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that these anti-heroes have drawn crowds of readers. For every cool alpha kid, there are a hundred more misfits, wishing for an alternate universe where their deficiencies make them heroes.