Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Eternal Smile

Welp, I got sick yesterday. Woke up unable to breathe through either nostril, a hacking cough, headache, and lots of other seasonal unpleasantries. Since I'm all high risk for nasty bugs like the flu, I called my doc, she scared the crap out of me until I called in sick and went to see her, and now I'm housebound until Monday. Luckily, I do not have the flu, but I have my usual almost-November sinus infection, and all I want to do is eat really spicy Chinese takeout and drink (decaf) tea in my jammies. The snot monster visits this time every year. I don't know why I'm surprised this time!

I could be working on stuff for online classes right now, but instead I'm getting my bloggy fix since I've been without this week, and I'll be reclining in my cozy bed to read Tideland, by Mitch Cullen (thank you, Nymeth!) shortly.

In the meantime, I wanted to go ahead and review Gene Yang and Derek Kirk Kim's collaborative graphic novel, The Eternal Smile. I was browsing through Borders one day when I realized that this graphic novel actually exists. I hadn't heard anything about it up until that point, and it finally dawned on me to get it from the library a week or so ago. I considered saving it for the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, but alas, I couldn't wait. There's a picture of my significantly chubby head next to the word "impatient" in the dictionary.

I LOVED Yang's first effort, American Born Chinese. Loved it. Did a little (big, jerky) happy dance when it won the Printz Award. I expected something similar from this little gem.

Not. So. Much.

Before you think I'm saying it's horrible, it's not horrible. It's just not as good (at all, nope) as American Born Chinese. Apparently Yang wrote the three loosely connected stories in this volume and Kim illustrated them. The first story is about Duncan, a prince who must retrieve the head of the evil Frog King in order to marry his hottie princess. There's a twist--a big'un--and Duncan finds out that nothing in the kingdom is as it seems. I won't tell you what the twist is, but it's a really sci-fi-teenager-nerd type of twist. Next!

The second story is about a frog--Granpa Greenbax--and his zillion scams. He's a Scrooge type character whose greatest wish in life is to have a "pond" so full of money that he won't hit his head on the bottom when he swims in his earnings. His assistant, Filbert, sees an odd smile shape in the sky, and it becomes Greenbax's next venture. He erects a cathedral and puts on his preaching robes to rob the locals of their cash as they worship the Eternal Smile. There's a big twist in this story, too, and again, I really can't tell you exactly what it is. However, I will say, everything is not as it seems in Greenbax's life either, and he begins to realize that maybe a pond full of money is not the pond he's looking for at all.

Finally, my favorite of the stories, and the most "down to Earth" of them all, was about Janet Ho, a corporate cog destined to go nowhere. She asks for a raise, her boss laughs it off, and shortly afterward she receives one of those SPAM e-mails from a mysterious Nigerian prince who needs thousands of dollars in cash to escape to America. Janet finds meaning in their e-mail exchanges even as she gives away her savings. Slowly, her washed out personality begins to change and she begins to see life in a new light...despite the fact that she's being had.

While each of the stories was perfectly yummy on its own, I was disappointed by the fact that they just barely seem to go together. They're thematically alike in big, vague ways, and I expected and hoped for a tightly woven narrative like that in American Born Chinese.

Oh well! It was a quick, light read, even if it didn't floor me like that other book I liked so much. Can't win 'em all!


  1. That's about how I felt. I was hoping for the brilliant, interconnected wonder of American Born Chinese. Whenever he surprised me in ABC, it was great! But, not so much with the surprises in The Eternal Smile. I felt kind of let down. I still liked it; I just didn't love it.

    Hope you feel better quickly.

  2. This is why when I really love the first book I read by an author, I sometimes put off reading a second book. But I'm glad I read your review-it'll help me adjust my expectations when I (eventually) get around to this one.

  3. I read this book this week! I agree, not as good as the first book, but I thought it was good...

  4. Uggg, sorry to hear about your snotty state of affairs. Seasonal colds are truly evil. But look at the brightside at least both your nostrils are clogged - nothing is worse than the terrible single nostril clogger :)

    And thanks for the great review! After reading American Born Chinese I would be expecting nothing but excellence from Yang, so it's good to be prepared for less.

  5. Feel better and take good care of yourself!

    I still haven't read American Born Chinese - I know, the shame! I will put this one on my list too.

  6. Amen, Nancy. I am right there with ya.

    Eva, it can be quite disappointing, can't it??

    Kailana, I probably would've been more impressed had I read these stories separately rather than together.

    LOL, Joanne! You're so right, my dear! Can't stand the one-nostril clogger! I like to think that if he'd done a book alone, it would've been pure brilliance again.

    Iliana, I think you'll really enjoy American Born Chinese. And you'll read it in like, 30 minutes. lol But it's such a GOOD 30 minutes.

  7. I hope you're feeling better. Nothing worse than a cold when you're pregnant. As I recall, my nose seemed to constantly run when I was expecting. Something to do with overactive membranes? Gross, huh? ;) But I'm glad to hear it isn't H1N1. My niece and nephew have it. Kind of scary.


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