Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir

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A powerful and moving teen graphic novel memoir about immigration, belonging, and how arts can save a life—perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up 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 in Seoul 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.  ---from the publisher

240 pages                        978-0062685094                 Ages 12 and up

Keywords:  graphic memoir, graphic nonfiction, memoir, social issues, social commentary, immigration, acceptance, accepting others, Asian American, Asian American author, belonging, finding yourself, fitting in, art, coming of age, identity, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old, diversity, diverse books

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“Their father’s hell did slowly go by”

-- Graham Nash (1970)

Or, in this case, her mother’s hell.

From the Acknowledgments page:

“So you can only imagine how thrilled Mom was when I finally told her I had been working on this memoir for over a year and found a publisher for it. After realizing there was no turning back on this project, Mom insisted that I at least leave her out of my story completely. I told her that would be impossible. She was the driving force behind it. If she hadn’t wanted me to write this story, she shouldn’t have brought me to America in the first place. Mom was so upset with me that she avoided me for months.”

Just imagine this happening to you: Your whole family is you and your mom. You don’t remember your father and you have no siblings that you know of. In past years, the two of you have gone on a number of overseas vacations. This year, your mother is taking you to a foreign country halfway around the world where she has a friend you’ve never met. Then, after you arrive, your mother announces that she is marrying that “friend” and you are, from this moment forward, going to reside in that foreign country where you don’t know the language or the customs. And there’s no going back for belongings or goodbyes.

Talk about a teen feeling powerless! ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL is a jaw-dropping graphic novel memoir in which we observe Robin, as a 14 year-old in 1995, learning that she will never return home to South Korea. Instead, this vacation to the United States is really a sudden relocation with an immediate merging of the two families into one household and family unit. And as it turns out, Huntsville, Alabama, is a pretty tough place to land as a teen Asian immigrant. For Robin, it seems to go downhill from there.

Fortunately, Robin is a talented young artist, and her art will keep her afloat. Eventually, circumstances land her and her mom in a more cosmopolitan part of the country, where she meets fellow students with whom she shares culture and interests. Things get better for her.

The pain of Robin’s situation is often raw and immediate. It’s easy to envision how what happened to Robin a quarter-century ago could happen to some unlucky kid today.

Imagine being Robin and having brand-new step-siblings who, instead of being welcoming and supportive, are sandbagging you at school. A school where, if you’re lucky, you understand a quarter of the words being spoken to you. A school where there’s no ESL program.

That sense of being a powerless teen, forced to submit to whatever your ignorant parents demand of you, is one that many will relate to.

The combination of great art and dialogue in ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL helps make this one an exceptionally powerful read!

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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