“I’m supposed to be Happyface. I’m supposed to smile and laugh and talk and get things going because people are attracted to that, they want to follow the happy person. They want that happiness to rub off on them.”
Happyface’s life fell apart, and he and his mother moved to a different town. There, he decided to shed his old identity and transform into Happyface, the life of any party and source of flippant jokes and sarcasm. However, maintaining his carefree persona requires a tremendous amount of effort, and prevents him from getting close to others. Worse, his secret past catches up with him in his new home-a history that evokes pity in others, and he doesn’t want to be the guy everyone feels sorry for. How can he make others want to be his friend if he can’t be Happyface all the time?
Happyface is an artist, and spends most of his time sketching cartoon characters, classmates, and the world around him. The format of the book reflects this: pages are filled with drawings and notes, which makes it very interesting to look at. Furthermore, the premise of the story is excellent: a young person realizes that sincerely expressing one’s feelings is the only way to be close to others, and that making friends necessitates being honest. So, some elements that usually lend themselves to a great read are present, but this book seems to be in the throes of an identity crisis. I found Happyface to be (please forgive me) a jerk. However, there are many fantastic books written in the voice of an unpleasant character, right? But Happyface’s one-dimensional self-centeredness, I felt, does young people a double disservice: first, by offering an unrealistically negative portrayal of teenagers, and second, by overshadowing the more appealing elements of the book. The text’s indecision extended to the plot, as well: a love triangle is played against a larger tragedy, when perhaps the book could have benefitted from only focusing on one of these narrative threads. In short, the book attempts too much, and the result is somewhat confusing.
In its defense, this is Stephen Emond’s first novel, as he has worked primarily on comic strips in the past. His artistic talent is displayed in the book, and I really enjoyed the different sketches and fonts in the story. However, if you are looking for a visually unique story, you might want to try Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. If you like the diary format, I have to recommend the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. They are wildly popular for a reason, folks; they’re hilarious and interesting to look at, as well as being from the perspective of the underdog, which is similar to Happyface, though much, much funnier. Finally, if you’re looking for books about how teenagers endure tragedies, I recommend John Green’s Looking for Alaska or Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King.
Author’s website: http://www.stephenemond.com/
Emond, Stephen. Happyface. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 307 pp. Ages 15-18.