While The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ falls within the genre of young adult coming-of-age novels, its specific setting in Thatcher’s England and the working-class status of Adrian’s family place it within the political context of Sue Townsend’s adult fiction. She has written a number of plays and novels that are humorous social commentaries focusing on England’s lower classes. It was the enormous success of her Adrian Mole diaries, however, that brought her to the attention of the public. By the mid-1990’s, the novel had sold more than five million copies in England and had been translated into twenty-two languages.
Some critics in the United States have complained that the distinctly British flavor of Townsend’s humor, as well as some specifics of vocabulary and political context, limit the universality of her themes when translated to an American audience. Others have countered that Adrian’s Britishisms, rooted in his place and his class, are grasped and appreciated even by young adults and that they add to the humor of the situations.
The diary format of the novel emphasizes the individuality of Adrian Mole’s singular point of view. The social realism of the setting and the author’s subtle wit contribute to the work’s literary merit. The universality of the adolescent themes is the basis for the enormous popularity of the novel.