Advocate A graphic memoir of family, community, and the fight for environmental justice

Eddie Ahn

Book - 2024

"A moving graphic memoir following Eddie Ahn, an environmental justice lawyer and activist striving to serve diverse communities in San Francisco amidst environmental catastrophes, an accelerating tide of racial and economic inequality, burnout, and his family's expectations" --

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  • Scene locations
  • Prologue
  • Come back soon
  • Easy money
  • Imperfect signals
  • Mama Jackson's sword
  • Burrito math
  • Frontlines
  • The morning calm
  • The journey to creating Advocate
  • Advocating for environmental justice
  • On frontlines
  • Advocating for oneself.
Review by Booklist Review

"It's hard to pinpoint what led to my career in environmental justice," Ahn muses. The hard work of his Korean immigrant parents' liquor retail business provided the Texas-born Ahn an elite northeast degree; they in turn "wait[ed] for the dream of what [his] higher education could do for the family." Instead, Ahn's "journey would be largely defined by . . . nonprofit work out west." Even after law school--which he financed, in part, with superb poker skills--Ahn again chose nonprofit work and public service focused on environmental policymaking. Facing debilitating illness, anti-Asian hate, and constant funding uncertainties seem to be quotidian challenges. Amid his tireless (and humble) advocacy, Ahn also proves himself an impressive self-taught artist, including winning an art contest to beautify utility boxes throughout San Francisco. His debut memoir, too, is a remarkable achievement, full of clean lines, precise panels, exquisite details, and soft color washes. Creating the book, Ahn admits, "has helped [him] . . . strike a better balance in advocating for myself too." An essential lesson for all.

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

Ahn debuts with a warmhearted homage to community work that also captures the complex pressures on children of immigrants. In 2005, Eddie is a young adult working with AmeriCorps for an after-school program in Oakland, Calif. There, he discovers the small joys of helping underserved communities. However, his Korean immigrant parents, who own a liquor store, expect upward financial mobility. He goes to law school and discovers a knack for high-stakes poker, but eschews both to pursue a career in environmental justice, which he calls "the gamble of my life." His personal and professional lives are constantly underfunded, and he's nagged by guilt that he's disappointed his family. He becomes the executive director of the nonprofit Brightline Defense, and serves on San Francisco's environmental commission. A strong running motif is the casual racism he experiences in the gentrifying city, where he's regularly mistaken as a car service driver or waiter. The graphic memoir is drawn with realistic, detailed portraits of Eddie, his comrades, and his beloved Bay Area, painted in alternating pink, green, yellow, and purple watercolor panels. Each scene is given the same weight and tone, which can flatten the narrative, and there's a tendency to overexplain. Still, readers who have heeded the call of people over profit will find resonance here. Agent: Chad Luibl, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A Bay Area activist recounts roads taken and not in this graphic memoir. Ahn's grandfather, displaced from his home by civil war in Korea, was never quite at ease again--and, "in service to his own dreams and lacking acumen, he failed to take care of his own family." The author admits to feeling discomfited by that assessment, fearing that the same could be said for him. Lacking the entrepreneurial drive of his own parents, he earned a law degree but then went into nonprofit work in the Bay Area, even as his classmates took more lucrative jobs. At the same time, he developed skills as an artist that he puts to good use in this book. One of Ahn's principal concerns as an advocate is the ever-growing specter of climate change--which, ironically, set him on a work schedule that could take him to half a dozen states in a single week, planting his carbon footprint meters deep. At least as a commissioner of the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Ahn has been able to make contributions to lessen that carbon footprint. The narrative ranges from the intensely personal, such as the author's complicated relationship with his parents, to the universal, including the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on so many people in need and the extraordinary demands it placed on frontline workers. Ahn's work as an advocate was also tested, putting him to the task of "thinking through the next step: how to work together and emerge from the crisis." Humane and sensitive, Ahn makes clear that the work of a nonprofit is endless and far from easy, but, as he toasts himself over dumplings, "Here's to hoping a lot of work can lead to something worthwhile." Inspirational reading for progressives seeking to make a difference in the world. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.