Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“Nothing’s worse than saying goodbye. It’s a little like dying.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 341 pages.
Read from March 7, 2021 to March 8, 2021.

I can’t think of a more relevant book to read right now with the current news going on in the middle east…

Persepolis is separated into two parts, one covering the author’s childhood in Tehran and the second, covering her teen and young adult life in Vienna. Both stories are, at their root, a coming of age story and memoir amidst the turmoils of revolution and war. In the first part of the story, Marjane details her life from the ages of six to fourteen during the midst of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Like the black and white images, the story details a stark contrast between Marjane’s private life and the life she must lead in public while also offering a child’s perspective to the serious changes affecting the entire country. Revolution, murder, and war was the setting that marked Marjane’s childhood and while Marjane’s parents always encouraged her outspokenness and independence it came at a cost. The first part of the book concludes with the major decision to move Marjane to Vienna to live with an extended family member. 

Within the second book, Marjane adds the retrospect of her parent’s perspectives and their decision to send her away to Vienna as they feared for her safety if she stayed in Iran. This is where Marjane begins to come into her own as she tries desperately to fit into this new culture while recognising how different her upbringing and perspectives are to her new peers. She also has to learn to be abruptly independent as the family member she was placed to live with soon falls through. Marjane’s story details the awkwardness of growing up with both humour and, at times, surrealness as Marjane faces difficulties of which her peers have not. Persepolis is relatable yet at times an alien and horrifying story of youth, family, independence and connection. 

Marjane’s artwork and style perfectly capture the humour, isolation, longing, horror, and frustration of the experiences she and her family experienced, making for a powerful and visceral read. It’s more important than ever to read books like Marjane’s as the turmoil she and her family experienced is still far from over for many families and women currently living in Afghanistan and other countries living with religious extremism and war.

Persepolis is easily one of the best graphic novels I’ve read. I would strongly recommend adding this book to your repertoire if you haven’t already. Whether you love or hate graphic novels or memoirs, I guarantee that this book will speak to you in one form or another. 

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Growing up in the 90s was hard enough but imagine coming of age in a new country that you didn’t want to move to in the first place, with a language you don’t understand…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 228 pages.
Read on January 21, 2021.

Recommended by a friend, this was a comforting read to have amidst another wave of COVID.

Robin Ha was born in Seoul, South Korea as an only child. While her father was briefly in the picture for part of her early childhood, Robin’s mother soon finds herself as a single parent, which, with the conservative views of 1990s Korea, didn’t bode well for either of them. Almost America Girl is a memoir that begins with Robin’s early life in Korea, the difficulties socially and financially that she and her mother faced. Then when Robin’s mother remarries they take a vacation trip to the United States to visit her new extended family, however, this trip abruptly becomes permanent. Robin feels immensely betrayed by her mother with this sudden and intrusive change of home that she had no say in. She is cut off from her former home and is not even able to get to say goodbye to her friends. Barely knowing a word of English, Robin details the struggles and triumphs she experienced as a youth in a new country, with a new language, a new family, and the reflection and rebuilding of relationships and trust that comes with time.

Robin’s artwork is clean, visually appealing, and easy to read while also capturing the moods and feelings of each scene and emotion the author was looking to create. The audacity of the move that Robin had to live with is one that is hard to sit with. While her mother did what she had to for her daughter, I can’t fathom how difficult it must have been to have your whole life turned upside down in that way. One of the redeeming factors of this story is that her mother does enrol her in a drawing class and it is the first place she finds some belonging in her new surroundings which ultimately leads to Robin’s art career and creation of this book. Robin is also able to reflect on the differences between the two cultures she grew up in as she revisits Korea as a young adult.

While Robin’s story of change is not unique in that many people are forced to sometimes make dramatic moves and face similar issues of culture and language, Robin’s story details the difficulties of such an isolating experience for those that have never had to face such an ordeal, and places the reader within her shoes, highlighting why stories like Robin’s need to be told. It also highlights the resilience that it creates in overcoming such challenges.

I would highly recommend this book to teens, anyone struggling with feeling different, or for any graphic novelist enthusiast. Further, I feel that this book would be a perfect read to have within a high school curriculum as it helps to build empathy and understanding for anyone that has ever been perceived as different.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

“Sometimes all you can really do is keep moving and hope you end up somewhere that makes sense.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 384 pages.
Read from December 17, 2020 to December 18, 2020

Allie Brosh took the internet by storm with her blog and book Hyperbole and a Half in the mid-2000s. Her comics perfectly captured life’s random mishaps and the strange things we did in childhood, as well as accurately describing what life is like living with depression. Allie disappeared for almost seven years shortly after her fame. What happened to her? Solutions and Other Problems captures the difficult time that Allie went through in her silence along with hilarious insights and more intriguing and ridiculous things about childhood.

Allie had planned to release another book within a year or two after Hyperbole and a Half but then tragedy happened. Her sister died suddenly. This was then followed by the end of a long term relationship and with Allie having to contend with some serious health issues, all of which she includes and reflects on in this book. A triple whammy of difficulties and pain, so it’s no wonder she became reclusive. It didn’t help that her email and social media was also hacked into at one point. This book takes on these major transitions in her life. It includes comics about her childhood as she remembers her sister and how she managed to get through some of the most difficult years of her life. Her story is relatable, potent, hilarious, and grounding. I should also add that while there are some very sad parts in this book it is still very much a comedy and that Allie’s trademark humour is present throughout.

The best part about this book is that it is deeply insightful and offers an intimate glimpse into Allie’s experiences and the things that have shaped her as an artist while still being immensely engaging and entertaining. It’s a book that shows how Allie has grown as a person and an artist. Allie has also come to see how much of an impact her work has had on others and just how much other people care about her. I also think that this book was healing for Allie and was less about what her fans wanted and more about what she needed. Many fans did not connect with this book as much as her first for this reason but I feel that not only was this book necessary but an authentic effort from Allie that reached an even wider audience. 

This book was absolutely worth the wait and completely captures the growing pains of grief and coming into your own despite life’s intense difficulties at times.