Summary: Almost American Girl
Almost American Girl is Robin Ha’s graphic memoir detailing her move from South Korea to Huntsville, Alabama. Robin is 14 when she and her mother leave for one of their regular visits to the US. Except, this time it’s not Hawaii or any other vacation hotspot — it’s Alabama. Robin’s mother has been encouraging her to learn English like she has been doing, but Robin is uninterested, preferring to enjoy her Korean comics and spending time with her friends buying stationery and Korean street food.
When they arrive in Huntsville, Robin realizes that her mother is there to visit a man she has been corresponding with. His family welcomes them, but Robin feels out of place since she can neither speak nor understand English. She dreams of returning to Korea when the vacation is over. However, Robin is in for a shocker as her mom announces that she’s marrying this man, and she and Robin are staying put in America. Her whole life changes forever, as she struggles to assimilate, while handling the ups and downs in her mother’s relationship.
I enjoyed this graphic memoir! I consider myself fairly new to graphic novels and memoirs, but when they’re good, they’re really good. Ha’s illustration style is realistic (which appeals to me) and her storytelling skills are top-notch. I was enraptured by her depictions of Korea and then of the US. She distinguishes between words spoken in Korean and those in English, so readers can feel Robin’s confusion and sense of displacement as she tries to find her place in America.
Another significant part of this story is Robin’s relationship with her mother, and how she also explores her mother’s life before her and how that shapes the choices she makes. Korean culture and family drama also feature in this story. Eventually, Robin is bullied in school and has to learn to stand up for herself. Robin has a distinct boyish style in her teens. That and her race (in a place like Alabama) make her a prime target for bullies. But things begin to look up when she discovers a comic illustration class and finally begins to find kids with similar interests.
Overall: Almost American Girl
Robin Ha’s Almost American Girl is a moving exploration of the joys and misfortunes of immigrant life — especially for a teen. It also examines themes of racism, identity, Korean culture, and the definition of family. Most importantly, though, this memoir is a story of finding home and expression in art, and coming to to understand a parents’ choices, even if they were so different from what we would have wanted for ourselves. Don’t miss the heartwarming afterword of this book. I would highly recommend it to upper middle-grade readers, teens, and adults alike! The Kindle-ComiXology edition is also great if you own an iPad or Kindle Fire.
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Have you read this book or any good graphic memoirs recently? I really love this format and would love some recommendations!