Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review of Happyface by Stephen Emond

Emond, Stephen. Happyface. Little, Brown, 2010.

Have you ever wished that you could just re-invent yourself? Perhaps, if you started over with people who didn't know the old you, you could be the sort of person you always knew you could be.

After Happyface and his mother move into a crummy apartment in another part of town, forcing Happyface to change schools, he has the chance to do just that - reinvent himself. And being unhappy with his previous situation, he decides to become a happy-go-lucky guy with an ever-present smile. It's better than being the guy that all that bad stuff happened to.

Hence his new nickname - Happyface. In fact, we never do get to find out his real name. And though he fills his journal with sketches of all his new friends, and includes himself in the drawings and cartoons, he draws himself with a huge happyface head.

Needless to say, his big smile and absolute refusal to ever talk about anything serious or give away anything of importance about his own life or thoughts keeps his new friends at a distance. Happyface sees himself as being an excellent friend, the kind that is always upbeat - and he's dismayed when he can't get close to anyone.

My two teen daughters, ages 15 and 19, liked this book more than I did, but that's probably testimony to its extremely authentic feel. While I thought the interminable and repetitive dwelling on trivial conversations and small slights was annoying, my teens were fascinated. This is how teens are - stuff like that is what the very fabric of life is made of.

Happyface does, of course, finally realize that his approach to friendship has had the effect of keeping everyone at arm's length, and his friends' reaction to him after he lets his guard down is gratifying while also quite realistic. I understood completely how pissed off his friends were, because I found that constant smile and stupid jokiness supremely off-putting. It was hard for me to really like Happyface, despite being privy to his private thoughts. He reminds me a little of the heroes in John Green's books, always pining after the most awesome, complicated, gorgeous girl. Puh-leeze.

But that's just my own bias. Two real live teen girls, both well-read and with great taste, really liked this book, and so it's a sure bet other teens will, too. And, this being a fine book, you might, too - so give it a try!

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

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