When I started reading Happyface by Stephen Emond, I was prepared for a light-hearted, humorous read.  (The big yellow smiley-face on the cover led me to that assumption.)  Well, let’s just say that I didn’t exactly get what I was expecting.  While the journal format was different from a lot of young adult novels, the whiny, self-centered protagonist was not.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Many young adults I know are whiny and self-centered, so they’ll be able to easily relate to this character, also known as Happyface.

We begin our story in a seemingly normal situation–a teen boy is out of school for the summer; his older brother Everett is home from college; they live with their parents who have their problems but seem to fit together; and this teen boy is in love with his best friend Chloe.  Everything’s great, right?  Um, no.  Fast forward to August, and our young friend is entering a new school, he and his mom have moved into a tiny apartment, and there is little to no mention of Dad, Everett, or Chloe.  What happened in just a couple of short months?  (Note:  I’m not going to tell you.  You’ll have to read to find out.)

With all these changes, our main character decides to make some changes of his own.  At his old school, he was kind of a nerd, always apart from everyone else (except Chloe).  Now, he is determined to be different.  He wants to be outgoing, popular, active.  It all begins when he meets Gretchen.  He makes an effort to be nice and happy around her, and Happyface is born.  That’s the nickname Gretchen gives him because he’s always smiling.  Happyface thinks if he’s smiling and acting like nothing bothers him, people will like him and not care (or know) about the mess his life is at home.  For a while, it works.  He’s going to all the parties, breaking curfew, hanging out with new friends, and basically becoming the popular guy he’s always wanted to be.

As with most things, however, this new-found popularity cannot last.  People begin to find out just what Happyface is hiding.  They discover what happened with his parents, his brother, and his best friend.  Happyface is back to square one, and he’s not, well, happy about it.  How can one person experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in one short year?  (Trust me, it can happen.  I speak from experience.)  How can Happyface reconcile his new life with the one he thought he left behind?  Read Happyface by Stephen Emond to find out.

If you like books written in journal format with lots of illustrations, Happyface might be the book for you.  If you enjoy it, I also encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  The books have similar formats, but, while Happyface takes himself way too seriously most of the time, the main character in Alexie’s book uses a lot of humor to get him through some tough situations.

For more information on Happyface and Stephen Emond, visit http://www.stephenemond.com/.

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