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Carina's Comic Corner: Celebrate AANHPI Heritage Month

As summer approaches and the sun begins to shine a little brighter, we all want to look for a feel-good story, and what better way to do that than with a great comic? May marks the celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, and with these identities come rich and storied tales of belonging and place. I'm also highlighting primarily youth reads here, as these coming-of-age tales can be enjoyed regardless of how old you are! Give these titles a glance for some great representation of AANHPI identity on the page.

Continental Drifter by Kathy MacLeod (First Second Books)

While Continental Drifter is marketed as a YA title, Macleod's graphic memoir can be enjoyed by young readers and adults alike, touching on feelings like loneliness, belonging, and growing up. The book follows the author as an adolescent, who grew up in Bangkok with a Thai mother and a white American father, as she spends her summer vacation with her father's family in New England. Young Kathy's desire to bridge both of her ethnic identities is achieved in a very complex way, allowing her Thai and American sides to eventually coexist after asking the age old question of "where do I belong?" The illustrations are simplistic and the story is easy to follow, and while some readers may desire something with a bit more depth, I'd say that this book is a great single-sitting read that'll evoke the summer heat and seaside breeze as you make your way through. This was a sweet read that was very apparently a love letter to what "home" meant to the author as a girl.

Purchase Continental Drifter here.

Hi'iaka and Pana'ewa: A Hawaiian Graphic Legend by Gabrielle Ahuli'i, illustrated by Sarah Demonteverde (Discover Graphics: Global Folktales Series)

Coming in at only around 30 pages, you'd think that this graphic novel would just be a snippet of a story, but that's definitely not the case! Hi'iaka and Pana'ewa is a comic book retelling of the Hawaiian lore of Hi'iakaikapoliopele, the Hawaiian patron goddess of hula, medicine, chant, and magic. In this story, Hi'iaka is working hard to make the forests of Hawaii safe for all those who go through it, but she won't be able to do that as long as the evil lizard Pana'ewa is in her path. Hi'iaka is able to use the power of magic and the help of her friends and sisters to overcome the wrath of Pana'ewa to make the Hawaiin forests more hospitable, and therefore safer for travellers to pass through. With a Disney-esque art style and a straightforward take on a folktale that may be a little less family-friendly otherwise, this is one that even the littlest comic fans will have a good time with. Plus, its imprint Discover Graphics has many other stories in its Global Folktales Series for those looking to broaden their comic horizons!

Purchase Hi'iaka and Pana'ewa here.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (First Second Books)

Before the Disney+ series, there was the blueprint: Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese has very quickly become a staple of AANHPI fiction, and for good reason. Told in three separate narratives that ultimately twist and turn into a wild ride of Chinese folklore and magical realism, American Born Chinese is action-packed and poignant all at once. The real world woes of Jin, the only Chinese-American boy at his school, told alongside the traditional fable of the Monkey King and a tongue-in-cheek story of Chin-Kee, an Asian stereotype come to life, are amplified by a bright, punchy art style and quick-paced dialogue. There are moments where American Born Chinese leans into the discomfort, revels in it even--this book tackles anti-AANHPI xenophobia in an in-your-face way, dismantling tropes with a huge finish. No spoilers here, but this is one that you have to read all the way through, as the ending alone is enough to gain this five stars.

Purchase American Born Chinese here.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (Penguin Random House)

Alright, alright--I featured this one in our mythology post. But it's just too good to not include on this list! It's also rare to see representations of Southeast Asian folklore in youth media. The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen is a semi-autobiographical tale that draws from folklore as we follow Tien, the son of Vietnamese immigrants who is struggling with his identity. Tien is exposed to three separate folktales during the novel: Tattercoats from England, Tan Cam from Vietnam, and The Little Mermaid from Denmark. Pulling from the varied cultural perspectives highlights Tien's confusion about his culture and sexuality. Paired with some very tender, heart-wrenching scenes with his mother Helen, who uses the stories to connect with her withdrawn child, The Magic Fish is a story of family that at its core is very simple, but when coupled with the rich background of fabled tales, becomes wildly nuanced. We so often are exposed solely to Western iterations of mythology, so to see a Vietnamese folktale retold on the page will open young readers up to a whole new avenue of world literature.

Purchase The Magic Fish here.

Looking for reviews on upcoming releases? Maybe commentary on a specific title? Just want to find something new to read? Stay tuned for biweekly themed posts, standalone reviews of new titles before they’re published, and more!

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