Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Happyface

Stephen Emond
2010; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-04100-3 (hardcover)

Summary: Forced to change schools due to his family falling apart, the nameless narrator decides to reinvent himself. No longer Mr. Comic Book Guy with a seemingly hopeless crush on his friend Chloe, he's now Happyface. At his new school, his smiles and positive outlook leads to relative popularity, a group of new friends, and even a possible girlfriend in Gretchen. Slowly, though, his past starts to interfere with his new life, and Happyface grows desperate to hold on to what he has. But his desperation just leads to his friends drifting away, including Gretchen. Can he keep smiling and remain Happyface, even when his life completely sucks?

Designed as a journal, complete with sketches and homemade comic strips, Happyface shows one boy grappling with several issues. The family turmoil he experienced gradually reveals itself, and shows how the main character is more affected by this drama than he first let on. The storytelling is layered, with illustrations and plot twists keeping the story from becoming predictable. Happyface is an intriguing, unreliable narrator, and his coming-of-age story will strike a chord with many readers. Pair Happyface with Drawing a Blank by Daniel Ehrenhaft for two examples of stories enriched by illustration without being graphic novels.

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