Thursday, November 8, 2007

Double Happiness

Howdy howdy folks, welcome to my first jawsome revue (though I cannot in good conscience call any of my reviews truly jawsome -- I'm merely referring to it as a revue that is on the jawsome revue blog). Double Happiness is a graphic novella (1999, 64 pg) that delves into a favorite of topics: finding one's identity in a foreign land.

First a confession: I got this book because it was cheap. I ordered Knock Knock (review forthcoming) solely on its Choose Your Own Adventure premise, but didn't want to order just one book. So I browsed Jason Shiga's other selections, and based on pages per dollar -- 64 pages for $5 -- it was the best deal, compared to for example another book that was 60 pages for $25. I kind of wish I'd also sprung for the $25 book since it was another CYOA-themed book and probably would have had far more "replay value." Anyway, basically I had totally forgotten that I had ordered this book.

Okay. So it's about this Chinese guy that goes to live with some distant cousin of his in SF's Chinatown and his attempts to and feelings on fitting in there vs. his past life growing up in Boston. And it kind of goes in a fairly predictable way, including a burgeoning love story, until the last act, where it leads somewhere that was hinted at subtly throughout. So on the surface you have a sort of generic boy-makes-good-in-new-territory story, with undercurrents of something-is-not-quite-right. Granted, I don't know too much about the things that go on, so perhaps to a different audience it's pretty clear.

Which brings me to the art style. Apparently he's aped an artist that is hugely famous in Southeast Asia but not as much anywhere else -- and has provided a glowing recommendation to this artist in the introduction. It's a fairly simple, cartoony style with wobbly lines and all, but it effectively conveys character's emotions and it "reads" easily. There are also some trope-y things, like speed lines, extreeeemely emotional faces with sweat flying off, extreme close-ups, but used sparingly and appropriately.

The thing about the style is that it creates some assumptions as to what kind of story this is going to be -- a bit cutesy, a little romantic, funny, light in tone -- which is, as I said earlier, turned quite suddenly on its ear in the later parts. In fact, the shift hits at the highest point in the main character's arc, just when you think you've got the ending figured out.

I do want to talk more about this but I hate being spoilery (though the odds of you running out and getting this are slim -- but if you do see it, don't hesitate to pick it up; it's a really well-done book), so I'll just leave off with some of the notes I wrote in the outline for this review.

- Parallels to own life, vis a vis being a banana, Asian growing up in a predominantly white community, outsider everywhere (oh cry me a river).
- A lot of nice character moments. I'm a sucker for these.
- Abrupt, obtuse ending that made me google for reviews to try to figure it out.
- What would I have done? Probably the opposite of what the main character did. It seemed like a good idea to me.

Grade: 7 Jaws

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