Ha, Robin. Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir. Balzer + Bray, Harper Alley, 2020. 240p. ISBN:9780062685100. $22.99.
Ha Chuna was born and raised by her single mother in Seoul, South Korea. Although Chuna’s mother raised Chuna on her own, she was still able to become a successful hairdresser who owned her own salon. But in August of 1995, Chuna’s mother takes her to Alabama, supposedly for a vacation, to meet a friend, Mr. Kim. Chuna’s mother did not tell her that she may marry Mr. Kim until after they arrived and had been there for several weeks. Chuna does not understand why her mother feels the need to leave her already successful life in Seoul for the United States. Before starting at her new school, Chuna picks an English name and goes by Robin to try to fit in. Robin’s lack of English skills makes it hard for her to fit in with students at her new school and her new step-family. Eventually, it becomes apparent that Robin’s mother is not happy with her new husband or her new in-laws and she makes plans to uproot Robin yet again.
Robin Ha’s graphic memoir takes us throughout her early life in Seoul, Alabama, and Virginia. Flashbacks show the reader her childhood and her mom’s struggle in strict Korean culture and why she felt the need to take Robin and leave. Robin documents the bullying, social strains, and cultural shunning of both her Korean and American experience. Thankfully, she is also able to relay the friendships she made and how they helped her understand both her Korean heritage and her new found American culture.
Robin’s story is well told in both text and illustration, leading to some heart breaking portions that can be counterbalanced by the periods of success and new friendship. The reader ends up rooting for Robin since it is apparent she has very little control over her situation but still does her best to find avenues that help her cope and bring her joy.
-Jessica Lundin, San Jose Public Library