I finished The Eternal Smile: Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang, Derek Kirk Kim in one sitting, but I have required an extra few days to think about these seemingly simple and straightforward stories before writing this review. Though they seem innocent enough, these stories are filled with meaning and, in my case at least, are not easily forgotten.
Some may poo-poo graphic novels as inflated comic books, but I beg to differ. I think that the combination of language and artistry can reach a whole new level of meaning and significance than can a traditional prose novel. For instance, some of the most powerful panels in this book are ones with no words whatsoever. And, conversely, words become so important in a graphic novel because there are so few of them. There is not room for a lengthy descriptive paragraph, and the reader shouldn't be able to skim. It is like a great haiku in this sense. Everything matters. Nothing is extra.
I found The Eternal Smile to be a blend of great writing, excellent artistry, and dynamic storyline. As the title promises, there are three short stories contained in this book. Each story has its own message or commentary on society. I will not talk about all of them at length, because they are short and I don't want to give too much away.
What I will say is that each of the stories is completely different from the others. Each could stand alone and is important in its own right. My favorite of the three is the last. I could see it being turned into a movie.
I think that boys in particular gravitate toward this genre of writing, but there are several amazing graphic novels that are written for the ladies. This one, in my opinion, is a fairly gender-neutral collection. I've already passed it on to a male student. He read it in one sitting and had a different favorite story than I did. He said that he felt that the story would stay with him for a while. This is a good sign!