I’m not a big fan of reading memoirs – unless they’re graphic novels. There’s something about the combination of words and illustrations that makes me feel like I’m getting a better insight into the person. So when I saw this coming-of-age memoir by an Filipina-Egyptian-American woman, I was intensely curious about how she balanced all those identities. I didn’t realize when I picked this up but it’s the second in the series. It worked just fine as a standalone, though.
The book starts with Malaka at nine, arriving to spend the summer with her dad in Egypt to find out that she has a new stepmother, Hala. After her parents divorced, while Malaka stayed with her Filipina mother in California, her dad returned to Egypt to help an elderly relative and eventually ended up staying there. While her dad’s new job as a hotel manager means a lot of amenities (buffet! pool! air conditioning!) it also means he’s working a lot, leaving her to spend most of her time with Hala, who doesn’t speak much English. As the years pass, Malaka struggles with her place in her dad’s new family, as well as not fitting in with the Egyptian part of her heritage. The evolution of her identity parallels some of the changes in Hala’s life as well and she grows closer to her stepmom than she expected.
For the most part, the book consists of small snippets of Malaka’s summer vacations in chronological order, from going to the pool, hanging out with cousins, or going on a family road trip. While Malaka loves them, she finds it hard to fit in, especially once her step-siblings start arriving. The perfect example of this is her attempts to figure out where to stand in the yearly family photo. Isolated due to lingual and cultural barriers, she’s sometimes lonely. The awkward teen years were the funniest for me, as she simultaneously tries to cash in on being the girl from Amreeka as well as fit in with her cooler (older) cousins. Being a fan of Nirvana and LA punk styles in a much more conservative country is a trip! At the same time, Malaka is dissatisfied with her relationship with her father, wishing they were closer or that he had more time for her instead of having to work all the time to support his family. She connects strongly with her stepmother, who’s also struggling to make a life as a homemaker, first as a new wife in a new city with no friends and later as a mother of three children. As she grows older and the relationship evolves, she slowly realizes how much Hala is dissatisfied with her fit in the family as well. The author handles the various characters and their flaws with a gentle hand, even her own, especially as Malaka grows up and starts to imagine who she would’ve been if she’d been raised in Egypt instead of America.
The artwork was distinct and I think it worked well with the narrative. The colors were lovely and the art was just the right amount of detailed, with lots of texture added by the color. I did wish for more definition in the facial features, but they worked at conveying emotion. I loved the depictions of the food, too!
Overall, this was a easily readable coming of age novel of a girl discovering how she fits in her various cultural identities, and is definitely recommended to anyone who enjoys graphic novel memoirs!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.