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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Book Review: Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40030311-almost-american-girl?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=UeBgwye1hR&rank=1

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A powerful and timely teen graphic novel memoir—perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo—about a Korean-born, non-English-speaking girl who is abruptly transplanted from Seoul to Huntsville, Alabama, and struggles with extreme culture shock and isolation, until she discovers her passion for comic arts.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up in the 1990s as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.


Review:
In the past, I hadn't read many graphic novels.  This was mostly due to my perception that they were glorified comic books that would be filled with superheroes and scantily-clad women.  But since my daughter has become an Art student, I've been exposed to many wonderful graphic novels about a wide variety of topics.

Almost American Girl, written and illustrated by Robin Ha, is a memoir.  Aside from the wonderful drawings, it is a powerful story of the immigrant experience and the tensions between and mother and a daughter.  I was blown away by the story and teary-eyed at the end.

What I Liked:
Illustrations:
The artistic style is really beautiful with delicate watercolors and detailed drawings of both South Korea and the United States.  I liked that strong emotional moments were highlighted with brighter colors.  She also had a clever way of distinguishing between when the characters are speaking Korean versus English.  She had two different colors for each type of dialogue.  This made it easy for the reader to understand.

Characters:
Chuna, who changes her name to Robin when she starts school in Alabama, is overwhelmed by the sudden move to America.  I appreciated seeing her struggles and frustrations with learning English.  I could really identify with that as I lived in Japan for three years, and found it difficult to learn the language.  I also think back on my own grandmother who came to America as a child and had to learn English.  It is a tremendous challenge that most people cannot fathom.  This book shows all the challenges, and also the rewards, with learning English.

Robin's mom is force of nature.  As a single mother in conservative South Korea, she had to be resilient.  But as a child, Robin only sees her mom as the person who disrupts their lives again and again.  She doesn't know all the reasons why they left South Korea, and resents her mother for putting her through such turmoil.  Since her mom tries to shelter Robin from such difficulties, I can see why Robin felt so betrayed.

What I appreciated was that the story eventually shows Robin's mom as a complex person who is trying to what's best for her and her daughter.  She doesn't always get it right, but by the end of the book, you understand where she's coming from.

Story:
The Story centers around Robin's struggles to assimilate into life in America.  It's not easy.  She must learn English, try to do well in school when she can't understand a thing, and find a way to deal with a new family.  All the while, she misses her friends, and the culture of South Korea.  

This was a powerful story that showed how determined people must be to come to the United States.  Most people do learn English eventually, and become contributors to their community.  I hope when people read Almost American Girl they come away with a strong admiration for what immigrants bring to our diverse American culture. 

Rating: 




Release Date:  January 28th, 2020

Author & Illustrator:  Robin Ha

Publisher:  Balzer + Bray

Genre:  YA Graphic Novel Memoir

Page Length:  240 Pages

Source:  Public Library

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation: An important book that I would recommend to teens and adults who want to understand the immigrant experience.
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