Friday, January 06, 2012
Author: Keshni Kashyap
Illustrator: Mari Araki
Genre: YA, graphic novel
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Read for: South Asian Challenge (2011), review
Tina is learning about existentialism in her English class elective (all I can say is, I wish my school had awesome electives like that), and she is required to write a diary to chronicle her experience. Meanwhile, high school sucks. Tina analyzes her experiences through an existentialist lens and in the process, discovers new opportunities and insights into herself.
First of all, this is my first graphic novel ever, and I am happy to announce it was an awesome experience. I have always shied away from graphic novels -- I never read comic books as a kid, and as an adult they have just never appealed to me in particular. However, this one was a winner for me. I seriously struggled with putting this down, and I think it is because a) it is in diary form, and I am a huge sucker for that, and b) it is so absolutely relatable. Sure, I'm not in high school anymore, but memories of friend break-ups and romantic disappointments were brought to the surface in a realistic way, with both sadness and humor.
I think part of the reason this book was successful for me was because of Tina's perspective. She deals with normal teenage angst like losing friends and vaguely interested boys, but wrapped up in this as well is her feelings of cultural detachment between her Indian family and heritage and her American lifestyle. Instead of being mopey and downcast about her situation, however, she gets creative. She uses the existentialist principles she is learning to make the most of the situations, and she genuinely grows from them. Many of her predicaments lead to what my Pysch 111 teacher called "long, drawn-out theories about the meaning of the universe" -- she made some friends based on their enjoyment about discussing the philosophy and the meaning of life. I still enjoy a good philosophical discussion, but I remember that when I was in high school, those conversations were as essential as air for me to be happy. While Tina's conversations are not really drawn out due to the comic book style of Tina's Mouth, just seeing the situations brought back strong memories of the situations in my own life.
While this is a book of self-discovery, there is a sense of direction in the outer plot as well. Nearly every situation finds some sort of resolution, although it isn't always in Tina's favor. I appreciated this; I like closure, whether or not it is always present in real life. I appreciated that the issues Tina faced were discussed instead of left hanging while leaving us with the knowledge that, although the diary ended, Tina's journey to understanding herself and fully enjoying her life was not.
While I had no problems with the illustration aspect of the story, for me, the story itself was the star while the illustrations were just background. There was nothing especially poignant about them for me; nothing that made me sit back and just appreciate them. I was always eager to get more of the story itself. However, as a newbie to the graphic novel world, I have no other experience for comparison, so I am not sure if in other novels the illustrations play more of a role.
Overall, I thought Tina's Mouth was a blast. I enjoyed her quirky perspective and the growth she experienced. For any YA fan hoping to try out graphic novels, this is a good place to start.
Warnings: Strong language in a few parts, allusions to hooking up