Almost American girl An illustrated memoir

Robin Ha

Book - 2020

"A powerful and moving teen graphic novel memoir about immigration, belonging, and how arts can save a life--perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo. For as long as she can remember, it's been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn't always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together. So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation--following her mother's announcement that she's getting married--Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn't understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off ...from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn't fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to--her mother. Then one day Robin's mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined."--Provided by publisher.

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Review by Booklist Review

The End of the World as I Know It Ha's first chapter heading happened when she was 14. As a student in 1995 in Seoul, Korea, Ha was mostly a typical teenager, enjoying close friendships, studying hard, and obsessed with reading and drawing comics. That she lives with just her single working mother occasionally caused clucking gossip and bullying at school, but Ha's two-person household was exactly right for mother and daughter. While past vacations took the pair to touristy destinations like Hawaii and Singapore, this year, Ha's mother announces they're flying to Alabama, where they ultimately land in the Kim family home, where three immigrant generations reside. When Ha's mother shockingly reveals she's marrying the recently divorced Mr. Kim, returning to Korea is no longer an option. With unblinking honesty and raw vulnerability, Ha's debut graphic memoir captures her often excruciating journey toward creating, 24 years later, a new identity that I now love. Silenced by lack of English, abused by racist students, even manipulated by a step-cousin, Ha spends her first year in the U.S. experiencing an arduous ordeal. Presented in full-color splendor, her energetic style mirrors the constant motion of her adolescent self, navigating the peripatetic turbulence toward adulthood from Seoul to Alabama to Virginia and back to Seoul just for a visit before finally arriving home.--Terry Hong Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In her YA debut, adult author Ha (Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes) creates a graphic novel memoir about a girl's transition from Korea to America. Tomboyish Chuna, 14, and her single mother have always been each other's closest relationship. But when her mother decides to remarry, Chuna is uprooted from her comfortable life in South Korea to the completely foreign environs of Huntsville, Ala. Faced with bullying from her classmates and stepfamily, Chuna's only solace is in drawing comics. It is only when Chuna is once more uprooted to the far more ethnically diverse McLean, Va., that she begins to build relationships and an identity that blends her Korean and American identities. Ha's vivid recollections impart a clear sense of place, whether they describe the Korea of her mother's generation or 21st-century Korea, Alabama, and Virginia, depicting each location with distinctive details. The colors are muted, allowing the vibrancy of the storytelling to shine. Touching and subtly humorous, this emotive memoir is as much about the steadfast bond between a mother and daughter as it is about the challenges of being an immigrant in America. Ages 13--up. (Jan.)

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Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up--Ha's touching graphic memoir depicts her lonely first year as a teenage immigrant to America. When her single mother brought her from Seoul, South Korea, to Huntsville, AL, in 1995, 14-year-old Chuna (the author's Korean name) thought it was just another vacation, but she quickly discovered that her mother intended to marry a fellow Korean immigrant, Mr. Kim. Chuna and her mother moved in with Mr. Kim's extended family, and Chuna joined her new stepcousins at school. Stranded in a sea of indecipherable English and racist bullies, she realized that the glossy America she saw on television was far from reality. But Chuna began to take a clear-eyed look at her home country, particularly the prejudice she faced because her mother was unmarried, and came to understand her mother's choice to leave Seoul. Eventually, Chuna joined a comic book course and bonded with her classmates. Illustrations include dynamic sound effects and convey overwrought emotion. The sepia-toned flashbacks to life in Seoul at first seem nostalgic, but as the teen reflects on how conservative Korean culture was, the monochromatic scenes feel far more bleak. Ha's all too infrequent fantasy sequences are gloriously colorful, especially the scene when Chuna takes solace in her favorite fantasy universe. VERDICT A poignant and unvarnished depiction of immigration--both the heartache and the rewards.--Anna Murphy, Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Transitioning from life in Korea to America, a young woman struggles with change and figuring out where she fits.After her mother's decision to marry a man in Alabama, 14-year-old Chuna, who thought she was just going on another mother-daughter trip, grapples with culture shock, bullying, and integrating into a new family. Her mother is still her hero, and she recognizes the sacrifices she has made in order for them to survive. It's rough going though, especially when the rest of the Kims, her new stepfamily, are not very supportive. She can't help but compare Korea to the U.S., the lively streets of Seoul and her many friends to her isolation in 1990s Huntsville. Bullying, though for different reasonsin Korea, for coming from a single-parent home and in Alabama, for being Asianis always prevalent in her life. (Many of the people she interacts with at school are white.) It isn't until her mother reminds her of her love of comics and drawing that Chuna, now going by Robin, begins to thrive. Employing soft and subdued coloring for the majority of the work, Ha (Cook Korean!, 2016, etc.) uses sepia tones for recollections of her family's history in Korea. This heartfelt memoir from an author who shares her honest, personal experiences excels at showing how Ha navigated Asian American identity and the bonds between mother and daughter. An insightful, moving coming-of-age tale. (glossary) (Graphic memoir. 12-adult) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.