A manga series about two college roommates who have come to America to study, Nada from Saudi Arabia and Satoko from Japan. Written by a Japanese author and translated into English, there is a lot about Muslims, particularly Muslims from Saudi, as the two characters get to know each other and become friends. Their interactions work to dispel a lot of stereotypes and promote how rewarding getting to know people different from your self can be. Volume one (there are three) is 127 pages, read right to left in four panel pages, and is fairly clean for all ages (they do buy underwear and bras at one point), but would most likely appeal to female readers in 4th or 5th grade and up.
The book is about two girls getting to know each other, learning about each other’s culture, and navigating life in America. There isn’t really a plot or a story line outside of this basic framework, and with a heading every page or two it reads like a quick scene about the topic expressed in the heading. So, for example there are headings of Veils, Ramadan, Birthday, MashAllah Choice, etc, and then a few panels showing the girls having an interaction about it, resulting in understanding, humor, or a lesson.
In a bit of a stereotype twist, Nada is more street savvy then Satoko when approached by a stranger for a ride, and thus Nada hasto educate her a bit. The book brings in a Christian American character and a third generation Japanese character learning Japanese, to further show how assumptions plague as all and how simple conversation and an open mind, can lead to some amazing friendships.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The book is really choppy, but you get used to it and soon you forget that it isn’t a typical story. I admittedly haven’t read a lot of manga so, I have no idea if this is the norm, or something unique. I love that its upfront about stereotypes, if it was an American writing it, or a even a Muslim it would probably come across as preachy or arrogant, but somehow it doesn’t seem like the two characters have much baggage, nor feel a need to defend their culture by putting another’s down. They deal with issues such as women driving in Saudi, differences between hijab, burka, abaya, niqab, being around alcohol, the joy of a fatwa allowing soy sauce and its alcohol content to be permissible, etc. Some things are cited for clarity and something are very Saudi, but it really contains a lot of information, about Islam that I am pretty impressed by. There isn’t a ton about Japanese culture since I would assume it was written for Japanese readers, so it would be redundant, but I did learn, according to Satoko, how religion is viewed by Japanese, how putting age and gender and race on forms seems incredibly personal, and some information about food.
There is a possible failed abduction, not sure what the guys intention was, but the girls treated it as such. The girls do go buy undergarments, so they are visually depicted. There is mention of alcohol.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t do this as a traditional book club, but I think I am going to get a copy of the series to pass around my daughters middle school group of friends, to
one- give them a taste of manga
two- see what they think of the Islamic rep from a Japanese paradigm and
three- give us all something to chat about
The book is fun, I got it at the public library and think it might open up a new book type for kids to try and a new point of view for many of us to consider.