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Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jan. 2020. 240p. glossary. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062685100; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780062685094.
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Gr 7 Up–Ha’s touching graphic memoir depicts her lonely first year as a teenage immigrant to America. When her single mother brought her from Seoul, South Korea, to Huntsville, AL, in 1995, 14-year-old Chuna (the author’s Korean name) thought it was just another vacation, but she quickly discovered that her mother intended to marry a fellow Korean immigrant, Mr. Kim. Chuna and her mother moved in with Mr. Kim’s extended family, and Chuna joined her new stepcousins at school. Stranded in a sea of indecipherable English and racist bullies, she realized that the glossy America she saw on television was far from reality. But Chuna began to take a clear-eyed look at her home country, particularly the prejudice she faced because her mother was unmarried, and came to understand her mother’s choice to leave Seoul. Eventually, Chuna joined a comic book course and bonded with her classmates. Illustrations include dynamic sound effects and convey overwrought emotion. The sepia-toned flashbacks to life in Seoul at first seem nostalgic, but as the teen reflects on how conservative Korean culture was, the monochromatic scenes feel far more bleak. Ha’s all too infrequent fantasy sequences are gloriously colorful, especially the scene when Chuna takes solace in her favorite fantasy universe.
VERDICT A poignant and unvarnished depiction of immigration—both the heartache and the rewards.

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