Saturday, July 16, 2011

Kid Konnection: Happyface

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a great young adult graphic novel.

Summary: Cute girls dig him. He has his own fan club

But he wasn't always this awesome. He used to be Mr. Comic Book, a resident of Lonelyland. So when he switched schools, he slapped on a grin and went from big nerd to big shot.

Meet Happyface. This is his journal.

This unique combination of text and fully integrated art follows the journey of a dorky, quiet, artsy kid as he reinvents himself after moving to a new town, where he's nicknamed Happyface. Peek in his journal and 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 messy past, forgives the people who have hurt him most, and ultimately learns to face the world with a genuine smile. -- Little, Brown

I wouldn't exactly say that I read a lot of YA or even that I'm on top of new releases, but when I saw the reviews for HAPPYFACE by Stephen Emond, I knew that it had the potential to be a book that I'd enjoy. I loved the cover and the graphic novel/journal format; and I thought the premise sounded fantastic. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews both gave it starred reviews so that didn't hurt either. However, I also knew that the story sounded like one that might be difficult to read.

HAPPYFACE tells the story of a 15 year old boy who isn't exactly popular at his school. He spent most of his time playing video games, writing/drawing in his journal and crushing on a beautiful girl. When his parents begin drinking too much and eventually split up, he and his mom move to a new town where HAPPYFACE gets a fresh start. He makes a concerted effort to always have a smile on his face (thus the nickname Happyface), and he also decides to keep his painful past a secrets. He finds that he's more popular than ever, but readers will quickly realize that Happyface still has some very serious issues to work through.

I really enjoyed HAPPYFACE and think it's a wonderful story. I loved the format of the book -- it's written as Happyface's journal with drawings, comic strips, and text; and the illustrations are incredible. It's definitely an "interesting" book to read with lots of different things to look at. However, the real beauty of this novel to me was the story itself. I was blown away by Happyface's story and I absolutely loved how he was portrayed. His self-deprecating humor was great, but it was his honesty and ability to survive that really captured my heart.

I think one of the reasons that this book was so good was that it had the right blend of humor and poignancy. This made it not only very entertaining, but also very powerful. At times, I felt like crying for the pain that Happyface was experiencing; and then just a few pages later, I'd be laughing like crazy. I think this mix of Happyface's emotions made him very genuine to me as well as very likable. I also think this mix is what will make HAPPYFACE extremely popular and well received by teens.

Booking Daughter is a huge fan of all things smiley-face so she couldn't wait to get her hands on this novel. Unfortunately, I had to tell her that she's going to have to wait a few years. There weren't a lot of things in the story that made it for older kids, but I just felt as if many of the topics were over-her-head. I'm not sure that she's mature enough to appreciate some of the things that Happyface had to deal with or that she'd even understand why Happyface felt he had to do the things he did. I just think this book would best be appreciated by an older and/or more mature teen (or adult.) Having said that, I found that this novel is recommended for grades 7 through 10 so what do I know?

As a mother, I found so many positive things about this novel. I love that it will appeal to boys as well as girls, and that's not always the case for YA books. In addition, I think Mr. Emond has created a very memorable character in Happyface that kids will like. I also believe that teens will recognize either themselves or their friends in many of the events that Happyface experiences, i.e. friendship drama, girlfriend issues, parent/child problems, school/teacher pressures, etc. And I'm really sounding like a mom now, but I love so many of the ultimate messages in this story!

I do think HAPPYFACE would be an excellent discussion book for teens and their parents. While Happyface definitely has to deal with some very difficult problems that most teens will (hopefully) never have to face, he also experiences some normal teen issues that many kids will be able to relate to. Some of the topics that you might want to explore include loss, grief, guilt, friendship, crushes, parent/child issues, alcoholism, regret, responsibility, forgiveness, and "faking it."

I definitely recommend HAPPYFACE for teens and adults alike. It's a very touching story about a boy who deals with so much pain and loss and still manages to come through it with a smile on his face.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


bermudaonion said...

Wow, that sounds like an amazing book! I think it keeps getting harder and harder to be a teen, so books like this are really important.

Laura Fabiani said...

Although a lot of these topics are explored in teen books today, it takes a good author to write about them well. Your review really makes me want to read this book!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds great! Your reaction to it makes it sound a lot like The Absolutely True Story of A Part-Time Indian, which I loved, so I'm anticipating that I'll love this one also!

Beth S. said...

This book has been on my TBR list for a while I just haven't gotten around to reading it. Your review made me want to put it at the top of my list. Thanks for sharing!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Cool format for this book - maybe it encourages kids to journal their own thoughts, experiences, struggles?

I think this would be a good fit for our 13-yr-old son (and I'll be sure to keep it out of the hands/eyes of our 9 yr old!)

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I love when you love a book, J! Your reviews are so much fun to read :)