By Ken Tucker
Updated June 23, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Writer-artist Lynda Barry’s last book, the 1999 novel Cruddy, offered bone-rattling realism. Like all of her work, it was an intense recollection of how we balance childhood’s great agonies and small joys. Now, as if to remind us of her range, comes The Greatest of Marlys, a poignantly funny collection of her comic strips about the wildly imaginative Marlys, a freckled, bespectacled preteen girl who wants ”groovy love in her life,” makes solemn resolutions (”Don’t tell people you can control bees with your mind”), and generally prevails over the appalling adults and creepy kids who surround her. The book, like Marlys’ life, is a small triumph. A