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Book Reviews: 'The Dunderheads' by Paul Fleischman; 'The Day-Glo Brothers' by Chris Barton; 'The Eternal Smile' By Gene Luen Yang

-- Abby McGanney Nolan

THE ETERNAL SMILE

By Gene Luen Yang

Illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim

First Second. $16.95. Age 13 and up

The three graphic tales in "The Eternal Smile" put a surprising spin on heroes, monsters and talking critters, no mean feat in a summer dominated by the sixth "Harry Potter" movie, book 5 of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" and the guinea-pig caper "G-Force." Printz medalist Gene Luen Yang and Eisner winner Derek Kirk Kim rise masterfully to the challenge, though. What they're doing here, with wit and grace, is heady stuff for smart teens: exploring the way fantasy sustains (and sabotages) three very different characters.

Playing off the high-fantasy tradition, the first story is set in a medieval world complete with a princess, monsters and a strange bottle of Snappy Cola that seems to connect a valiant young knight to a contemporary room and a sad, middle-aged woman. The second, rendered in kiddie-comics style, features a greedy frog bully (reminiscent of Disney's Scrooge McDuck) who confronts a horrifying truth: His personality has been microchip-implanted by a children's TV mogul. His poignant desire to reclaim his froggy essence confounds our usual isn't-that-cute response to anthropomorphized animals. In the third story, a dowdy office worker makes contact with a fake Nigerian prince through an e-mail scam and finds the courage to begin changing her literally colorless existence. The powerful and empowering ending leaves her poised to become the hero of her own ongoing tale.

-- Mary Quattlebaum


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