Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary
by Keshni Kashyap & Mari Araki (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

What would a diary dedicated to Jean-Paul Sartre look like? If you're Tina M., sophomore and budding philosopher, you'll start your diary off by promising to stick to the assignment handed down to you by your hippie-ish philosophy studies teacher. You'll promise that you won't fill your diary with any observations about boys, or life at school, or why you and your friends don't get along anymore. And then you'll go and fill the diary with just that. Because no matter how deep a thinker you may be or how much you believe yourself to be above the fray of school life, you're still a teenager. You're still a girl who hasn't been kissed yet, not on the mouth, and not by a boy you want to kiss. You're still wondering why it's so hard to connect with people in general.

There's a lot of promise in Keshni Kashyap's graphic novel about being an upper-middleclass Indian young adult going to a school that's apparently advanced enough to have courses in philosophy and existentialism. The writing is wry, funny and very observational. Tina's problems, mistakes and drama are very normal for her age and are touchingly depicted. It sticks with its thematic message well enough: find out who you are, who you are meant to be, by focusing on just being. Or finding out how to be. As was mentioned before, it's got philosophy at its heart. It can get a bit dense in places.

The rest of the book is fighting the I-stand-alone loner cliche, and not doing a very good job of it. That plot has been done to death. It's rather easy to call the action out ahead of time. She's an outsider among outsiders but it sort of ends there. She's also too sweet and pleasant to shape up into a true rebel, though she does a decent job of pushing herself to live her life and try new things and face her fears, like appearing in a school play even though she has stage fright.

But the textual content overruns everything else and makes it more of an illustrated novel. The art is nothing to write home about. No new territory is being explored. Even the Indian upbringing-vs.-American-influence angle isn't that fresh. There is more than a hint of a 20-something person trying to sound like a 16-year-old. It's good at capturing the shallowness of teenage drama but other than that a thousand books and movies have used plotlines like this before. It's more like a good start as opposed to a magnum opus.

review by
Mary Harvey

23 November 2013

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