12 December, 2011

Review: Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki

There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving a pre-order as a gift. I think (if the release date is close enough to the holiday) that it extends things. It creates a little epilogue to the season. Tina's Mouth is being released (or re-released?) on January 3rd, so that's great timing. Or terrible timing if everyone is in their post holiday belt tightening phase. Either way, I almost passed up an advance copy of this book because of the marketing. (I'm glad I reconsidered.) Remember a few weeks ago when I was joking that any graphic novel written by a non-caucasion gets compared to Persepolis? Yes. That joke isn't funny anymore. As a bonus, the main character here is American, so they also throw American Born Chinese out as a reference. I totally missed a career in marketing.

If You Like Indian Food, You Will Love Tina's Mouth! Or perhaps Look Out Bollywood! Tina Is In Town! Maybe even Like Maus, But Without The Genocide! It's so hard to choose. How do you market a graphic novel without highlighting that it is by a non-caucasian and that other non-caucasions have written successful books too?  I mean, you could focus on the story but that's just crazy. Who wants to read a coming of age story about a young teen girl caught between societal expectations and her own emerging sense of self?


Everyone does?

Maybe marketing wasn't for me after all. Good thing I took this high paying blog job. Moving on - Tina's Mouth is the tale of a young teen who is assigned the task of keeping an existential journal. I was a young teen once, and I was really into existential texts. I think there is a certain kind of girl who runs from Glamour into the waiting arms of Camus and Sartre. Both ask What Kind of Girl Are You? but only one includes a handy picture guide to self hatred. Setting aside the conceit that Tina is writing to a dead philosopher, this is a classic tale. Tina has lost her best friend, she isn't sure she fits in, everyone seems really into boys and who is she going to be, anyway? Examining the rise (and fall) of her high achieving siblings, Tina takes steps toward her own self definition by becoming engaged in school activities. This leads her to new people and new experiences.

While depictions of drug use, booze and (off camera) teen sex might freak a few parents out, let's be real about what our kids are exposed to. (I can tell you right now which tweens of my acquaintance will be flying like kites very soon.) Tina suffers some self induced and externally induced humiliations without turning them onto herself. It is not her fault her first kiss has been co-opted into a school sanctioned assault. Tina stands up for herself and her personal boundaries. Tina takes very identifiable teen experiences and uses them as the building blocks for her eventual self discovery. It's easy to tell kids to be true to themselves, it's harder to show them how to figure out who they are. Tina is a great role model and a great read for tween to twenties.

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