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.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

“The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . . open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details and irony.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 508 pages.
Read from January 10, 2021 to January 18, 2021.

This book has been on my TBR list for years and while it was supposed to be a selection for the book club I’m in it was changed due to it being a bit too long for a monthly selection. I decided that I would still take the opportunity to read it as it had been on my list for so long.

My Name is Red is a unique piece that manages to interweave a murder-mystery plot with a love story, that takes place in a historical setting, that also pays tribute to the creation and development of Ottoman art and culture in the shadow of the West and influence. The result? A finely crafted piece of literature. The story revolves around a group of miniaturists, one of whom is murdered. One of the three remaining artists is responsible but you won’t find out who until the end. Miniaturists were artists that would work together to paint manuscripts and within the Ottoman empire, these works were often a collaboration with a head artist coming up with the plan and outline and passing off the remaining work to apprentices. These manuscripts, despite their beauty, were rarely signed by their creators which, differs greatly from the Western traditions of art. This is one of the main points of conflict in the book as some of the artists are under coming under this new Western influence. As the murder mystery unfolds, a love story also takes hold that counterbalances some of the violence in the story as well as the more factual artistic and historical references. Pamuk’s writing style and unique narrative approach are elegant, poetic, and complete with wonderful and memorable quotes that leave a lasting mark.

“Colour is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness.”

My Name is Red is an outstanding piece of literature that brings awareness to the culture and art of the Ottoman’s in the 15th century. However, if this is not an area you’re familiar with, it can make the book harder to appreciate or understand. Don’t let that stop you from reading this book though as it is a meticulously written novel that has a beautiful read with an immensely captivating story. Books like this one, help to turn attention to places that produced phenomenal art that was generally overlooked within the Western canon.

“In actuality, we don’t look for smiles in pictures of bliss, but rather, for the happiness in life itself. Painters know this, but this is preciously what they cannot depict. That’s why they substitute the joy of seeing for the joy of life.”

My three-star rating has to do more with my own reading experience as I wish I had done a little bit of prior research just before picking up this book. I would recommend these steps for maximum enjoyment before reading this novel. Knowing what a miniaturist is a good place to start as well as getting a visual for what types of works these artists produced and how they were used and read. Thankfully, Wikipedia has a decent summary that won’t eat too much of your time. A highly recommended read for historical fiction lovers and anyone with an art appreciation.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

“We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others because we don’t live with them…If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 322 pages.
Read January 5, 2021 to January 7, 2021.

I don’t think I’ve really talked about this awesome new book club I’m apart of. It’s a meet-in-person club with people who actually read the book, all while drinking copious amounts of alcohol with engaging and amazing discussions. Every. Single. Month. I chose The Vegetarian for my read in May and it was epic.


It’s a book lover’s dream and I’m so happy I found it. Born a Crime was another book club read and unlike the last one this book was an unexpected pleasure.

Confession: I have never watched The Daily Show and only knew about Trevor Noah in passing. It wasn’t until I came across this book that I even knew he was from South Africa.

Born a Crime is Trevor Noah’s memoir and testament to his childhood and his country, South Africa, and especially his mother. Trevor Noah is ‘coloured’ and was born during the time of apartheid meaning that he was actually born a crime. He legally wasn’t allowed to exist. His mother is black and his father is white and relations between the two were not allowed, among many of the rules that oppressed the black population of South Africa at the time. The story describes how Noah grew up, how his mom raised him alone, and how he learned and worked within the regimented system that existed in South Africa. Trevor’s story is highly entertaining and engaging while also drawing attention to the intense racial issues that still plague South Africa today. Trevor’s story is also a testament to his mother and everything that she did for him in raising him. If you’ve read the first chapter of this book you also know it involves being thrown out of a moving vehicle to save him. Just one example of how funny, interesting, and captivating Trevor’s story is.

“My mom did what school didn’t. She taught me how to think.”

Trevor’s story isn’t about his miraculous rise to fame, it’s about his country, his mother, and is a coming of age story for a kid growing up in a difficult situation. Trevor is humble and while he gives some details about his rise to fame he takes a reflective stance about what his new situation means to him and others.

“The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.”

Considering I didn’t even know much about Trevor Noah prior to reading this book I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book and just how humorous it is. A good comedian can make light of serious situations and issues while drawing your attention to these sensitive topics without offensive, Trevor has mastered this.

“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.”

Whether you love memoirs or not, I feel that there is something in this book for everyone while also providing a unique insight into difficult part of South African history.