Saturday, December 10, 2011

Philosophical Graphic Diary

Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary
I teach Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in my senior literature class, so I was excited to find this book being compared to that book. While I think the comparison is too loose to be of any use to readers (like everything even remotely dystopian being called "the next Hunger Games"), I don't think this is a story to be discounted. Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap may not be the next Persepolis, but that doesn't mean it isn't an interesting story!

Tina is Indian American. She isn't religious and her family has not arranged a marriage for her. She is a pretty normal American teenager living in California, in fact. When her teacher gives them year long project on existentialism and encourages them to find out who they really are, she decides to keep a diary devoted to the project (which the teacher will mail back to them after 3 years). Along her journey, and dialogue with John Paul Sartre, Tina uncovers some universal truths about herself and about adolescence. 

The story follows Tina as she takes the opportunity an decides to get more involved by joining the school play. She makes friends, loses friends, is heartbroken by friends. She sees her family for who they really are, including one very lonely and confused brother. She has a crush, has her first (and miserable) first kiss, her first love, and her first heartbreak. Tina lives the same life we all have lived, but she does so with the added challenge of examining her choices and the world around her for this project. The result is a realization that some of us still haven't made!

I struggled to like this book at first because I kept comparing it to Persepolis (thank you marketing department). Once I stopped thinking of this as a comparison to the other graphic novel, I was able to really enjoy the story. It is a bizarre mix of truly deep philosophical theories with "trivial" (although they never are when you are living through them) trials and tribulations of typical adolescence. But it works. Teens, after all, are in the midst of trying to find who they are, so why not dig into the philosophical theories that do just that?! I liked the main character, Tina. She was a little quirky, a little snarky, and, like most of us, just wanted something to make her happy. Funny enough, what made her happy wasn't what she expected it to be.

This graphic novel is probably best for an older student. I would give it to a kid in 10-12th grade. In fact, at first I thought this would be best for those uber-deep students who always seem more mature than their peers (and let's face it, more mature than some of us), but the philosophy is accessible enough and the trials and tribulations are ubiquitous enough to make this good for a number of types of readers. When you really dig down deep into the meaning of life, you find out we all just want to be happy. How we get there, however, is a bigger question than anyone can answer! Even John Paul Sartre!

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