This is such an amazing book! ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL is about Robin Ha (Chuna) and her life growing up in the United States as an immigrant in the 90s. I thought her life was so interesting because it was so unconventional. Her mother was a single mom in Korea, and apparently that is even more stigmatized in Korea than it is here-- people always assumed the worst and Robin quickly learned to hide that her father wasn't around. Her mother started dating a man who worked in importing fish and later moved to Alabama to open his own fish shop, and he and Robin's mother decided to get married.
When Robin goes to the United States with her mom, she thought it was another one of their usual trips. Obviously, when she learned the truth, she was devastated. Her step-family was not interested in getting to know her much at all, and her step-sisters and step-cousins could actually be hostile (with the exception of the eldest). Her school didn't have ESL classes, so she ended up plopped right into regular classes with only her questionable step-sister/cousin to translate. After having a close-knit group of friends in Korea, the move left her feeling isolated and lonely with no one to talk to or share her interests.
This is such an amazing coming of age memoir because it offers a really unique perspective on what it's like to grow up in two drastically different cultures. Her mother's story as a single working mom was so impressive, and I loved the relationship between mother and daughter, and how her mother worked so hard to push her to be independent and pursue her own interests despite that not being traditional. My favorite part of the book was how comic books ended up being the key that helped Robin unlock her own new circle of friends in the United States, especially her friendship with Jessica, and having that foundation ended up making her stronger when she and her mom later moved again to Virginia.
I've been to countries where I didn't speak the native language and it could be frustrating and scary, especially when you are really trying and you suspect the other person you're interacting with might be having a laugh at you or you've just unknowingly done something rude. Dealing with foreign money, interacting with strangers, or getting lost and/or having to ask for directions in a language you don't speak can be so hard! And I was only traveling-- while reading this, I asked myself what it would have been like if I'd had to take classes in a subject that was taught in a language that I didn't speak, in a place with customs I didn't know, and my socially anxious self did an ~epic cringe.~
The art style of this book is simple but it suits the story and complements, rather than detracts from, the story. I think it will appeal to tomboyish girls and women, anyone who is interested in comics and nerd culture, and/or anyone who has immigrated or been an expatriate, or simply doesn't feel like they fit in with the rest of society all the time. I feel like the message of this book is that everyone has a group of people out there who will understand them and their interests if you take the time to look for them, and even when you travel and find new experiences, in the end you'll always find your way home.
5 out of 5 stars