I don’t know how you feel about manga, The Japanese comic books that range wildly in genre, but if the word or feeling of impenetrability is floating around your head, then I’m totally there with you. I’m down with the reading left to right and I generally like the art style, but there is just so much of it (weekly release schedules are not uncommon) and its categorized in a different way than western comic books. There are a ton of comics as well so maybe my quantity argument doesn’t hold up, but because it isn’t organized around singular heroes the way comic books are I’m not really sure how to find my entry point. I’ve been recommended a few series and some anime as a way to start in on it, but I just haven’t followed through with anything. So it was fortuitous that the assigned reading for a book club I’m in was a manga titled My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata. This was my chance to jump and find out what I’ve been missing and wow I really loved this book… but. I’ll get the book in a second as I whole-heartedly recommend it, but it might not be the best entrance into manga. Something that came up in our monthly discussion was that, even in the world of manga such earnest, and emotional autobiographical works aren’t super common. It’s a great book but maybe not a launchpad into manga.
Like I mentioned this is an autobiographical work from the point of view of a young girl in Japan who is dealing with what I think of as the ‘now what question’. Personally I try not to spend too much time wondering how or why I came to be a human on planet earth. I’m here, so now what? Perhaps (not perhaps, definitely) J.R.R. Tolkien put it better in The Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf says, “‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’” This is the story of a young who feels very lonely, her struggles to combat that loneliness, and grow up at the same time. There’s not a ton of plot as it’s not a very long book, and I don’t want to try and review it too much and affect how you approach or interpret it. I’ll say that I found it deeply resonant as person at a similar point in my life wondering what the hell to do next. It’s deeply (and shockingly at some points) earnest portrayal of her life and feelings, and the author doesn’t betray that trust with cliches or half-baked emotions. The autobiographical nature extends into the art and lettering as well as Kabi wrote, drew, colored and lettered every page of this book. It absolutely feels like one whole cohesive piece, and the self imposed limitation of have to do all the art herself never hinders the book, but enhances the storytelling at many points, The simple art style and color palette are extremely cohesive with the narrative and emotional journey this book goes on. The last piece of praise that I can offer comes from someone for whom I bought this book as a gift. When I gave it to them I didn’t tell them much about it, only that it resonated with me and I thought it expressed things I don’t have the ability to give words to. They didn’t necessarily love the book as much as I hoped, but they told me that they understood me a little bit better after having read it. This was someone knows me really well and so I interpret to be really high praise for this book that it was able to communicate some of my feelings better than I could (I’m admittedly not the best at talking about that stuff, but still).
I don’t know if any of that was convincing but I hope that if this book sounds like it might be something you enjoy you’ll check it out. It surprised me and then it blew me away, maybe it’ll do the same for you.