An innocent’s voyage of self-discovery that artfully reveals a country few Americans know.

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HALFWAY HOME

DRAWING MY WAY THROUGH JAPAN

Inzer, a teenage author-illustrator, delivers a charming tale of self-identity.

The author was born in 1997 in Japan and grew up there until 2003, when her American father and Japanese mother moved the family to the United States. During a solo trip home to the land of her birth in the summer of 2013, just prior to her 16th birthday, she gathered the content for what would become this slim graphic novel. The book’s title refers to Inzer’s “somewhat feeling half at home in both Japan and America.” In Japan, she stays with her grandmother, Baba, and her grandfather, Jiji; she also visits with other relatives, and goes to sites she hasn’t seen in a decade. Along the way, she gets reacquainted with old favorites; one example, drawn with loving care, is a domestic hamburger: “Besides my grandparents, the second greatest reunion I had in Japan was with a certain fast food chain you can’t find in America: Mos Burger, the love of my life.” She also sampled destinations she’d never visited before, such as Kyoto; her description of that city’s Rocks of Ryoanji offers an enjoyable example of her snarky style: “I think I should try to do some transcendental thinking/writing, being in one of Japan's most famous historical sights, but the camera clicks and tourists (I know, I know, I’m one) make it kind of hard to be enlightened.” Inzer’s best descriptions are of other people, such as an apprentice geisha that “will sort of acknowledge your presence and faintly smile and looks super pumped.” But although Inzer’s commentary is often revealing, it’s her winning illustrations (and to a lesser degree, her photos) that bring her version of modern-day Japan into focus—particularly her self-portraits, which effectively show her reactions to the places and people around her.

An innocent’s voyage of self-discovery that artfully reveals a country few Americans know.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0990701408

Page Count: 102

Publisher: Naruhodo Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2014

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A powerful reminder of a history that is all too timely today.

THEY CALLED US ENEMY

A beautifully heart-wrenching graphic-novel adaptation of actor and activist Takei’s (Lions and Tigers and Bears, 2013, etc.) childhood experience of incarceration in a World War II camp for Japanese Americans.

Takei had not yet started school when he, his parents, and his younger siblings were forced to leave their home and report to the Santa Anita Racetrack for “processing and removal” due to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The creators smoothly and cleverly embed the historical context within which Takei’s family’s story takes place, allowing readers to simultaneously experience the daily humiliations that they suffered in the camps while providing readers with a broader understanding of the federal legislation, lawsuits, and actions which led to and maintained this injustice. The heroes who fought against this and provided support to and within the Japanese American community, such as Fred Korematsu, the 442nd Regiment, Herbert Nicholson, and the ACLU’s Wayne Collins, are also highlighted, but the focus always remains on the many sacrifices that Takei’s parents made to ensure the safety and survival of their family while shielding their children from knowing the depths of the hatred they faced and danger they were in. The creators also highlight the dangerous parallels between the hate speech, stereotyping, and legislation used against Japanese Americans and the trajectory of current events. Delicate grayscale illustrations effectively convey the intense emotions and the stark living conditions.

A powerful reminder of a history that is all too timely today. (Graphic memoir. 14-adult)

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60309-450-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Top Shelf Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2019

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