In 1990s Texas, 12-year-old Filipina-American Marcine embarks on a journey of salvation and self-discovery.
In the aftermath of loss, Marcine becomes obsessed with the teachings of George Ohsawa, founder of the macrobiotic diet. She feels compelled to save those doomed to unhappiness because they have sanpaku, a condition where the whites show around the iris, believed in Japanese superstition to bring bad luck. Bearing an undeniable resemblance to Marcie from “Peanuts,” she sports a black bob and glasses. In this hefty graphic novel, Gavino’s (Last Night's Reading, 2015) black-and-white illustrations tell Marcine’s story through vignettes at home, school, a local Asian grocery, and (in flashback) the Philippines. Coming-of-age elements such as friendship and self-discovery abound, with a quirky combination of ethics and faith, a sprinkling of lesbianism, and even a subplot that involves pop star Selena. Gavino realistically captures the impressionable spirit of a tween on the brink of adolescence, seeking to define her own belief system among hardcore Catholics such as her grandmother’s prayer group. Cultural notes, such as familiar Tagalog sayings (“Hay naku!”) and a love of Spam, are spot-on. Unfortunately, a convoluted plot makes this a murky read. A subplot about a scandal regarding the statue of a would-be Filipina saint with a “marble vagina” and reference to orgies is particularly confusing.
Cultural authenticity doesn’t make up for a disjointed story with an unclear audience. (Graphic novel. 12-16)