Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #42: Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki

Tinas-Mouth-Keshni-Kashyap“Please leave your name, number, the time of your call, and a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks and have a great day!” This was, and currently again is, my voice mail message. (Points if you can name the movie reference.)  What’s funny is that most people hear that message and try to tell me what modern man’s existential dilemma is, not what the ontological necessity of it is.  These are the things I thought when I picked up Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary, which is a really cool book that’s the result of the main character, Tina, choosing it as the class project for her English Honors elective in existential philosophy.

Tina is a sophmore in pretentious California high school academy and according to her teacher, Mr. Moosewood (“AKA Moose – who supposedly smokes pot, which makes him the most popular teacher at school”) they are to turn in the diary, sealed, at the end of the semester.  He apparently won’t read the diaries, but will mail them back to their owners after three years.  Seems pretty cool.  I was hooked from the first two sentences of the book:

Dear Mr. Jean-Paul Sartre,

I know that you are dead and old and also a philosopher.  So, on an obvious level, you and I do not have a lot in common.

The diary covers many typical high school things like growing apart from friend’s, balancing your culture against just wanting to be a “normal” teen (Tina is Indian), falling in love, kooky and awesome family, having your heart broken, parties, and school plays (they do Rashomon, which, holy shit for a high school.) Now, apparently, the school is known for it’s “ambitious productions” since past plays include Proof and Equus.  I don’t know you get permission to do Equus in a high school, but okay.

There seems to be a synergistic thing going on, too, because a few days before I started reading this, a friend of mine mentioned Rashomon when talking about how there is often more than one side to things. It also came up in a movie I had randomly flipped to on TV the other night.  So Moose talks Tina into auditioning for the school play and she gets as the lead.  Her leading man is a geek’s geek in school, whom Tina winds up having her first kiss with because the script calls for it.  It’s a gross first kiss, unfortunately, both because she didn’t want to kiss him and because he was a jerk about it.  But she bumpily works through it and the play goes up to great acclaim.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Tina is talking with her favorite auntie, Urvashi, who is getting drunker and drunker as the conversation goes on.  But she makes sure to tell Tina that she has a “heavenly and mysterious expanse” inside her.  If anyone has seen the movie The Secret Garden from the 90’s with Kate Maberly, you’ll remember the story she her cousin about the Indian prince who had a whole universe inside him.  It was the same parable, and Auntie Urvashi wanted to make sure Tina knew that she had a universe in her, too.  She passed out shortly after telling her this (not before also imparting such wisdom as “marry a European!”) but in the morning, Tina awoke to find a note on her bed.  Her Auntie Urvashi expands on the story:

This story illustrates what I meant yesterday, though mostly it is interpreted by total idiots.  My interpretation goes as follows and it is the best one.

  1. People will tell you all sorts of things.
  2. Don’t listen to them.
  3. Do as you please, but on one condition.
  4. Know that there is a universe inside yourself.
  5. And examine it.

This may seem complicated, but really it is not. Come visit me here in Bombay darling, but don’t call it Mumbai as that name was given to the city by a bunch of raving mad right -wing lunatics.

Red Hot Kisses,

Your fond,

Auntie Urvashi

I love Auntie Urvashi.  And really, I loved this whole book.  The illustrations (by Mari Araki) were fantastic and the whole story was a great read.  This is a great addition to the coming of age ya fic, in awesome graphic novel style.

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