Review of Himawari House

Himawari House
by Harmony Becker; illus. by the author
High School    First Second    384 pp.    g
11/21    978-1-250-23556-5    $24.99
Paper ed.  978-1-250-23557-2    $17.99

In this expertly crafted graphic novel, recent high school grad Nao, born in Japan and raised in the American Midwest, spends a gap year in Tokyo. “Only half” Japanese and lacking language fluency, she struggles to fit in. Nao’s housemates include two other non-natives, Korean Hyejung and Chinese Singaporean Tina; they tell Nao they simply want to experience life abroad but both hide complicated backstories, revealed in sections related from their points of view. Frequent use of manga art styles adds depth and detail to the story of Nao’s roller-coaster year. Becker (illustrator of Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, rev. 9/19) smartly uses speech balloons to re-create the feeling of being a language learner, showing, for example, only Japanese characters when Nao can’t understand a word of rapid-fire Japanese but providing both Japanese characters and English translation when she does understand, with blurry lines standing in for the words she isn’t getting. Dialogue balloons have characters speaking accented English with their pronunciations written out phonetically; in an endnote, Becker says, “Our accents are not a point of shame but a point of pride, because after all, what is an accent but proof of the ability to speak more than one language?” Hilarious and tender situations abound as this insightful graphic novel explores, among other topics, how language can either separate or bring people together.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jennifer M. Brabander

Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature from Simmons University.

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