Book - 2021
"When Nao returns to Tokyo to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, she books a yearlong stay at the Himawari sharehouse. There she meets Hyejung and Tina, two other girls who came to Japan to freely forge their own paths. The trio live together, share meals, and even attend the same Japanese-language school, which results in them becoming fast friends. But will they be able to hold one another up as life tests them with new loves, old heart breaks, and the everyday challenges of being fish... out of water?"--Provided by publisher.
*Starred Review* Becker, who brilliantly created the artwork for George Takei's Eisner-winning They Called Us Enemy (2019), makes her stupendous solo debut in what will prove to one of the best graphic titles of the year. The narrative might initially seem simple: a mixed-race U.S. teen takes a gap year in Japan to reconnect with her heritage. To tell the story, Becker showcases her impressive polyglot facility, combining English, Japanese, Korean, and Singlish (including rewarding winks to fellow polyglot readers). To show the story, Becker's exquisitely expressive black-and-white illustrations enable and encourage empathic responses to induce guffaws, sobs, and everything in between. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a white American father, Nao moves Stateside where "people were always quick to point out that I was different." Nao "adapted" by abandoning her first language and culture. Choosing to return to Japan between high school and college, Nao arrives at Himawari House, a student group home, where she quickly bonds with Hyejung and Tina, also studying Japanese. Hyejung is Korean, estranged from her parents, and hoping to enter art college. Tina, from Singapore, is currently taking a term off while waitressing. Brothers Shinichi and Masaki will prove integral coresidents, as well. As relationships become opportunities for deeper communication, Becker's text bubbles ingeniously become indicators of better understanding. Audiences can expect absolute delight. Grades 9-12. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews
Recent high school graduate Nao, 19, who is half-Japanese, Japan-born, and Midwest-raised, decides to spend a gap year at Tokyo-based sharehouse Himawari House to reconnect with her roots. Soon, Nao meets her housemates: Hyejung, a studious college-age Korean woman; Tina, a buoyant 25-year-old Chinese Singaporean; and two Japanese brothers, personable, bespectacled Shinichi and standoffish, curly-haired Masaki. As Nao reassimilates, she is relieved to discover that Hyejung and Tina speak English (Tina's Singlish is "like English but deluxe flavor"). The process of language learning, the way language can define identity, and multilingual experiences are lovingly illuminated in mostly translated Japanese, Korean, and English, with smudges denoting words lost in translation; characters' accents are respectfully rendered phonetically. Those familiar with Asian culture will recognize how richly the narrative is steeped, including manga and manhwa onomatopoeia, nods to food, Asian pop culture, the konbini franchise Lawson, and more. Those unfamiliar will appreciate the fluid, expressive cast, rendered in playfully shifting manga styles, and the intricately sketched scenery. In this stunningly layered graphic novel debut, Becker crafts a warmly actualized world in which the multiplicities of diasporic Asian identity are examined and held close. Back matter includes an author's note about accents. Ages 14–up. (Nov.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.Review by School Library Journal Reviews
Gr 9 Up—Living in a foreign country is an immersive and often rewarding experience, but grappling with a new language can also be a struggle to keep one's head above water. Becker, who illustrated George Takei's They Called Us Enemy, pinpoints this sense of discovery and disorientation in her debut graphic novel. Nao, a Japanese American teenager, arrives in Tokyo for a gap year and quickly befriends her roommates—bouncy Tina, who is Chinese Singaporean, and homesick Hyejung, who is Korean—and interacts with two male Japanese roommates, Shinichi and Masaki. Together, the fast friends experience touchstones of Japanese life—combini, izakaya, obaachans, cherry blossoms, and matsuri. But this is largely stage-setting for Becker's focus on language learning in context; speech bubbles written as subtitled Japanese become more complex as Nao's comprehension improves. There are countless intersecting modes of communication even within Nao's social circle: Tina's Singlish, Hyejung's thickly accented English, their paths to Japanese acquisition, and surly Masaki's fluent written but poorly spoken English. The ability to define oneself depends on the ability to communicate that self to others, and our heroes tackle language barriers head-on to articulate their identities in an exhausting, exhilarating year in Japan. Becker's art references manga and Japanese urban aesthetics playfully but not obsessively, reinforcing the book's themes of immersion and self-definition. VERDICT This lighthearted yet serious-minded journey of discovery will delight, educate, and challenge teens interested in language and cultural exploration.—Emilia Packard, Tokyo Copyright 2021 School Library Journal.
A young adult graphic novel about three foreign exchange students and the pleasures, and difficulties, of adjusting to living in Japan.Living in a new country is no walk in the park—Nao, Hyejung, and Tina can all attest to that. The three of them became fast friends through living together in the Himawari House in Tokyo and attending the same Japanese cram school. Nao came to Japan to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, while Hyejung and Tina came to find freedom and their own paths. Though each of them has her own motivations and challenges, they all deal with language barriers, being a fish out of water, self discovery, love, and family.