Jen Wang (previously) is several kinds of excellent comics person: from her debut graphic novel Koko Be Good (a complex and heartfelt take on "manic pixie dream girls") to her award-winning, bestselling, brilliant genderqueer fairy tale The Prince and the Dressmaker, to In Real Life, the middle-grades comic she adapted from my story Anda's Game to the unmissably fantastic annual comics fair she started in LA, she is versatile, smart, compassionate and immensely talented. Now, in her latest, Stargazing, a semi-autobiographical graphic novel for young readers, she brings the action closer to home than ever, and yields up a tale of friendship, identity, talent and loyalty like no other.
Christine is a Chinese-American kid struggling to live up to her parents' expectations for her achievements in school, Chinese classes, church, and violin. All that changes when her parents invite a poor single mother and her daughter, Moon, to come and live in their granny flat, and Christine discovers a whole new way of being in the world.
Moon isn't like any of Christine's friends: obsessed with K-Pop, indifferent to her grades, consumed with drawing, and, it turns out, overtaken with the secret conviction that she is an alien being who is waiting to be summoned back to the cosmos by her real family. She's also a Buddhist and a vegetarian and is rumored to have been kicked out of her old school for fighting.
Christine's growing friendship with Moon -- established through a series of largely wordless, brilliantly illustrated sequences that are Jen Wang's superpower -- triggers profound changes for Christine and her relationships with her family, friends, and her identity as an "Asian kid" with all the baggage that comes with it. But when Moon turns out to be more popular than Christine, Christine's jealousy gets the best of her, and the story takes a sharp turn, as Moon is revealed to have an unsuspected, and possibly terminal, illness.
In her afterword, Wang reveals that she had her own near-death experience with a brain tumor as a small child, and talks about how her life was shaped by that profound and terrifying episode.
The combination of Wang's own personal experience of childhood illness and her experience with her identity as an Asian-American combine to make this one of the most deceptively simple and yet profound books for young people I've had the pleasure of reading. It joins the pantheon of outstanding titles about identity and foreignness in America that includes American Born Chinese and Will Eisner's New York Stories. Highly recommended for kids and their grownups. Also: I'm not crying, you're crying.
Stargazing [Jen Wang/Firstsecond]