It seems as if I am reading a lot of “boy books” lately. You know, the ones that have a male as a protagonist and are actually written about things other than social circles, love and shopping. Okay, that was a bit snarky and untrue. There is such a plethora of young adult and children’s literature available these days, I have no reason to complain about subject matter. My favorite types of boy books are ones that are not about sports, but are in fact about other things boys care about. Girls, for instance.
Happyface by Stephen Emond introduces, well, Happyface, a teenage boy caught up in the woes of life but trying to maintain a positive exterior of his image. In other words, he has caught some bad breaks, but chooses to not let people in to that dark part of himself. Written in diary format with accompanying illustrations and other inserts, Happyface is not like any book I have seen recently in the YA world. It is not a graphic novel. The illustrations are supposedly done by the narrator. And yet it has deep meaning and themes.
The basis of the story seems to revolve around Happyface’s need for female approval. There is one particular girl who he loves, who crushes his heart, so he moves on to another. His happy-go-lucky, everything’s right in the world attitude attracts said girl and they become instant friends. Meanwhile, Happyface continues to struggle with the pain that he feels and the difficult home life he returns to. One might think that boys don’t want to read books about girl crushes, that teenage boys don’t care about girls. My friends, I am choosing this moment to call you out on that. I have two teenage brothers who do, in fact, care about girls. They might not pick up a book about romance, per se, but they would definitely be able to relate to the main character of this book.
In my eyes, however; Happyface is not a dynamic character. He allows things to happy to him, rather than enacting change. Yes, he approaches girls and other peers, but other than that, he just swims in the sorrow of his mind, and expects everything to be okay in the end. “DO SOMETHING!” I want to scream at him. In the end, I would recommend this book to any teenage boy. The subjects of family, love and loss are universal, bringing out the need in all of us.
by Stephen Emond
Published by Little, Brown