Rummanah Aasi
 Living in a new country is no walk in the park―Nao, Hyejung, and Tina can all attest to that. The three of them became fast friends through living together in the Himawari House in Tokyo and attending the same Japanese cram school. Nao came to Japan to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, while Hyejung and Tina came to find freedom and their own paths. Though each of them has her own motivations and challenges, they all deal with language barriers, being a fish out of water, self discovery, love, and family.

Review: Himawari House is a slice of life graphic novel that I absolutely adored. The premise of the graphic novel is very simple: The Himawari House is a shared house in Tokyo and we follow the lives of its residents as they live abroad. The graphic novel itself, however, is anything but simple. This is a character driven graphic novel and each section devotes its page time to one of the female characters.
    Nao, is a biracial Japanese American teenager (her mother is Japanese and her father is white), arrives in Tokyo for a gap year. While growing up in America, Nao has slowly rejected her Japanese heritage. She forgets the language and presses her mother to speak English. She stops bringing Japanese food for lunch in a bento box because her classmates loudly complain that it is too smelly and weird. Now Nao is hoping that her gap year will allow her to reconnect with her heritage.
 As Nao arrives at Himawari House, she quickly befriends her female roommates Tina, who is Chinese Singaporean, and homesick Hyejung, who is Korean and her two male Japanese roommates, Shinichi and Masaki, who are brothers. Like Nao, Tina and Hyejung are also trying to learn Japanese and on a larger scale, come to Japan to make sense of their lives. 
   Tina is very energetic yet she struggles to study and pass her Japanese classes, mainly because she spends most of her time trying to pay for the school's tuition by working. Hyejung came to Japan to find herself as she made the first active decision in her life. She was tired of pleasing her parents, broke up with an uncaring lover, and needed to start over. Hyejung struggles with balancing her own desires and the desires of her parents who she has been estranged from for a year.
  As we spend time with these friends, we learn about the Japanese life and culture-combini, izakaya, obaachans, cherry blossoms, and matsuri. I found learning about Japanese culture to be utterly fascinating. What really touched my heart, however, is Becker's focus on language and identity. Interestingly, the speech bubbles are written with Japanese characters and subtitled English underneath. Not all words, however, are translated, which heightens the disconnect the characters have while learning the Japanese language.  There are countless intersecting modes of communication even within Nao's social circle: Tina's Singlish, Hyejung's thickly accented English are not created to make fun of the characters, but call to attention on accents and their paths to Japanese acquisition. Nao often wonders if she can label herself Japanese even when she can't speak the language fluently or has correct Japanese grammar (I also struggle with the same question as my Urdu is not fluent and my grammar is atrocious). I also loved the contrast of Masaki's fluent written but poorly spoken English against those of the girls. Masaki is constantly mistaken for being rude or arrogant because he does not interact with his other roommates, but his aloofness is due to his self consciousness of speaking English.  
  I fell in love with these enduring characters instantly and it was very hard to say goodbye as I finished the book. I only wished that we got an epilogue. I also wanted to know more about the brothers too. If you love stories of character growth, self discovery, and friendship then I highly recommend picking up this graphic novel. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some scenes of casual racism from Nao's American classmates, some panels suggest sexual situations but nothing graphic is seen on page, Tina is harassed at her waitress job and there is drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.   

If you like this book try: The Dischantments by Nina LaCour, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
1 Response
  1. This sounds so good! I love that identity and language both feature in amongst a great story.

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