Maximillian Jackson's Reviews > Happyface

Happyface by Stephen Emond
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Sep 05, 2011

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bookshelves: english-412

You’re the average high school guy, battling against your own ephemeral idea of self, low self-esteem and complete lack of popularity which so many of the other kids have in so much abundance. Yet and still, your life isn’t completely horrible. You’ve got a charmingly annoying Dad that argues with your humourously annoying mother and you have an I-Still-Look-Up-To-You-Even-Though-You’re-So-Annoying older brother that gives you (terrible) advice when he visits home from college. And, of course, you have your best friend/love interest, whom you fawn over hourly but can never find the nerve to make a move on. You’re life is far from horrible; it’s just very average. That is, until everything changes.

I speak in second-person POV because the protagonist is never given any other name besides his moniker “Happyface,” which is obviously to help the reader identify with him and pull greater emotional attachment out of an overall lackluster story. In a world with sparkling vampires, wizardry schools and teens fighting in life-or-death reality shows, where even realistic fiction has larger-than-life characters and situations, a novel that is so normal and quite so realistic is rather boring. However, such realism is appropriate as the meat of the story comes to rely on the nuance, depth and insightfulness instead of a narrative gimmick.

That isn’t to say this book doesn’t have a gimmick. In fact, it was the gimmick that made me pick up this book. What HappyFace lacks in vampires and dark wizards, it makes up for in imaginative storytelling. Instead of a straightforward prose narrative, the exposition and dialogue is mixed in with brief comic panels and illustrations that compliment the prose. While not a proper “graphic novel,” this novel is more like the mutant-hybrid baby of a prose novel and a comic book—in a good way. The illustrations do well to add excitement and movement to the book, quickening its pace. This would make the novel a masterpiece of innovation if it was smaller, making the creative direction more profound, but since it is 306 pages, the effect wares off before the end.

Both the art and subject matter make this a realistic novel that could attract male readers to YAL. It also focuses on an important theme in YAL and in young adult culture, that of self-esteem, self-image and how one can deal with life’s challenges. In this way, the ordinary and relatable setting comes in handy in conveying the lessons being told. I would say it could be brought into curricula as a study of form, style and theme. HappyFace is not a perfect book. It is not a horrible book; it’s just average.

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