Happyface by Stephen Emond
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 307 pages
Just put on a happy face!
Enter Happyface’s journal and get a peek into the life of a shy, artistic boy who decides to reinvent himself as a happy-go-lucky guy after he moves to a new town. See the world through his hilariously self-deprecating eyes as he learns to shed his comic-book-loving, computer-game playing ways. Join him as he makes new friends, tries to hide from his past, and ultimately learns to face the world with a genuine smile. With a fresh and funny combination of text and fully integrated art, Happyface is an original storytelling experience.
The bright yellow cover called me the moment I entered the YA section of Fully Booked Eastwood. It was bright, and the smiley made an interesting cover, and when I took a peek inside, I saw that it was a book…with drawings!
But what really convinced me to buy is when I removed the half dust jacket and saw this:
This certainly got me very, very curious. How can a book entitled “Happyface” have a sad face inside?
Happyface is the journal of a boy who has been christened Happyface by the girl he likes because of his sense of humor and his happy demeanor. Happyface is a high school sophomore, and a shy, artistic kid who tries to reinvent himself when he moves to a new town. The journal contains the account of the school year, from June to March, as he tries to make friends, ask out the girl he liked and be the happy person that everyone expects him to be.
This isn’t exactly a comic book, but it’s also not a plain novel. I like reading journal-type novels because I like first person accounts, and I’m a journal keeper myself. The drawings in this book are fascinating and entertaining at the same time. Look:
I’m not big on graphics or photos in a novel — I like words more. However, Happyface made me appreciate art (simple as they may be sometimes), and the images were not there just to be there, but they really add to the story. I can’t draw to save my life, so I am immediately in awe of anyone who can draw something that is more than a stick figure. I do wonder sometimes how Happyface can have the time to draw and write — writing is hard enough, but drawing them as well? Wow. Of course, again, I’m not an artist, and I can’t draw, so I can’t exactly say how hard or easy keeping a journal with art is. Perhaps someone can enlighten me?
Happyface may sound and look like a happy book, but I was surprised to find myself sighing and feeling really…well, sad, about Happyface. Like what the dust jacket and cover shows, there is more to Happyface than his smiley face. When I was in college, I used to call myself a sugarcoater. I remember telling my YFC household head to never ask me how I am once — she needed to ask me twice (and sometimes even more) because I automatically answer “Fine” or “I’m okay” whenever they ask me how I am. Ever since then, people were careful to really ask me that, and conversations usually start like this:
Friend: Hi Tinamats! How are you?
Me: Hi! I’m okay.
Friend: (pauses) Okay. Again. How are you?
Me: (take a deep breath and tries to answer the question again)
It’s a defense mechanism, I think. It’s not that I’m never okay, or I lie at the first answer, but it’s become such an instinct to just answer that I am okay, rather than explain why if I am not. Plus I always felt like if I open up and tell them exactly how I am, it’s like I’m laying the burden on them. I figure I’d be of better help to them if I was okay, and I can listen to them better rather than give myself room to rant.
I’m happy to say that I am doing my best not to be that way anymore. Reading Happyface reminded me of those days, and I really empathized for Happyface in his plight. It’s easy to think Happyface was just a shy, awkward kid who would rather spend time in front of the computer or at home with his comic books and sketch books. It’s easier to think of that because I didn’t think he’s the kind of guy who has serious problems, because he was so cheerful all the time, even to himself, and this book was supposed to be his journal! But as the story went on, we find out what happened to Happyface and his family, why he moved in the first place and how he really, really felt (with some help from alcohol). It’s sad, almost heartbreaking, and now I really understand the presence of the sad face.
Happyface is the dorky boy in school who you would never have a crush on, but would be really good friends with. He’s the guy who’d draw stuff for you, join you in shopping and hand you a Christmas gift that he made himself, looking all awkward and blushing. He’s the guy you will call when you’re dating someone and you need someone to encourage you or tell you that everything will work out — heck, he may even help you work things out with the guy. Happyface is the guy who is secretly in love with you, and you may never ever know because he’s too shy to tell you about it.
Altogether now: awwwww. :(
I also love how refreshing a male point of view is in contemporary YA fiction. I am a girl and I appreciate it if I read a girl’s story about life or love or whatever…but let’s face it girls: we can be too whiny and we over think a lot. Happyface’s voice is refreshing and funny, and it’s a relief to read that guys can be awkward and dorky yet be totally sweet all at the same time.
Happyface is a fun yet painfully honest journal, not about self discovery, but realizing that everyone of us hides behind our own happy faces. It may not be like how Happyface hides behind his smiles — we may hide behind what we wear, what we eat, what we do, who we date, how we act, but we all hide something, that we are afraid of others to see. Happyface the novel and the character teaches us that it’s okay to (and I quote) “…allow myself to cry or sit by myself when I need to…and find things to really smile about…“ after.
I recommend this book to anyone who’s loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, or, if you haven’t read that yet, those who can appreciate a good, non-paranormal YA story. My friend Aaron says this sounds similar to what John Green writes, and that I have yet to find out. I’m pretty sure girls will like this book (who doesn’t like reading about sensitive, awkward and geeky guys? :P), but I’d recommend this book more to guys who may have been a Happyface at one point in their life.
Oh, and my favorite part of Happyface? This drawing. I really think I look like her when I don’t dry my hair properly and when I wear my glasses. What do you think? :)
2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 72 out of 100 for 2010
My copy: hardbound, from Fully Booked