Himawari House, by Harmony Becker, (Nov. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250235572
A glimpse into the lives of three exchange students living in Japan, Himawari House is about the friendships, frustrations, and adjustments that come with living in a new country: in this case, Japan. Nao, Hyejung, and Tina all move into Himawari House and attend the same Japanese school, but have different reasons for being there. Nao wants to reconnect to her Japanese heritage and worries about fitting in with Japanese culture. “Too Japanese” for her American life and “Too American” to Japanese classmates, she struggles with cultural identity. Hyejung, is Korean and moved to Japan to escape her overbearing parents and their unrelenting focus on her academic success. Tina is from Singapore and struggles with connection, preferring to lose herself in fandom. Although Nao’s story is the main driver, Hyejung and Tina have fully realized, moving backstories, all explored here, along with their roommates, two Japanese brothers with widely differing personalities. The group all come together and live here at Himawari House, and the story is a slice of life look into a year in their lives, as they all live and work side-by-side, eat, fall in and out of love, go to school, and talk late into the night. The language barriers are expertly illustrated here – largely bilingual, Japanese characters appear in many word bubbles; the dialogue has a blend of English, Japanese, Korean, and Singlish (the English Creole spoken in Singapore), with a brilliant explanation of the use of accents in the story at the end. Black and white artwork is largely realistic, with Chibi renderings to communicate extreme emotion. It’s a well-done character study and will be popular with teens and young adults.
Himawari House has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.