Goodreads: Almost American Girl
A teen graphic novel memoir 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.
Almost American Girl is a moving and empathetic portrayal of growing up and finding one’s place in the world–something made even more difficult when the protagonist, Robin, finds herself unexpectedly uprooted from her home in South Korea and thrown into an American middle school. Unable to find much support from her new classmates and even her new family, Robin experiences plenty of tears, frustration, and anger, until the day her mother enrolls her in a comic class. This could be the start of something new for Robin. But how does one move forward when one’s heart remains somewhere else?
Finding friends in middle school could be its own sub-genre, considering the wealth of graphic novels dealing with this fraught topic. Almost American Girl brings a fresh perspective to a popular theme by depicting the experiences of a girl who leaves her home in South Korea and must learn how to navigate middle school while barely knowing the language, much less the customs, of her new home. Complicating matters is the fact that Robin is experiencing some (justified) anger at her mother, who never warned her of the impending move, but instead told her they were going on “vacation” in America. After her mom marries her new America “friend,” the two just never return home, leaving Robin furious that she cannot even tell her old friends what happened to her. And Robin’s new stepfamily? They are not interested in speaking with her in her own language, or helping her learn how to fit in. In fact, some of her new sisters seem downright delighted to watch her embarrass herself when she does not understand the teachers.
Watching Robin struggle to fit in can be hard, especially when it appears she is not receiving as much support as she should. One English teacher seems willing to listen, and to give Robin assignments that match her current mastery of English. Other teachers, however, get busy and forget that Robin may have trouble understanding them, and keeping up. Even Robin’s mom grows frustrated at her tears, as she thinks only of what a great opportunity she has given Robin, and fails to understand why a transition to a new life could be so difficult for an adolescent. Over time, however, Robin begins to make friends and to find her way. Seeing her transformation feels especially rewarding because readers have also seen what the transformation cost.
Almost American Girl is a powerful portrayal of both the difficulties and joys of moving to a new place, finding new friends, and starting over. Even readers who do not generally pick up graphic novels may want to give this beautiful memoir a chance.