BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan [aka Diary of a Tokyo Teen] by Christine Mari Inzer

Halfway Home by Christine Mari Inzer on BookDragonOn the book’s front cover, mega-bestselling Bonecreator Jeff Smith uses the word “wonderful.” On the back, French Milk’s award-winning Lucy Knisley talks about “the wit and pen of someone well beyond her years.” Inside, those blurbs get further expanded, followed by many more phrases of praise, including “a lot of fun” from lauded manga authority/translator Frederik L. Schodt.

How Christine Mari Inzer – a high school student whose publisher also happens to be her father, who seems to have started the so-far one-book Naruhodo Press just for this title – reeled in the big wigs for pre-pub blurbs, garnered serious national attention. The short answer? She simply asked. Definitely an important, inspiring lesson to be learned here! [The press’ name, by the way, seems especially apt: naruhodo means something like, ‘I see,’ but getting to agreement after an element of surprised understanding as in ‘oh, really? I get it now!’]

Still just 15, Inzer traveled solo to Japan to spend eight weeks of her 2013 summer break “getting reacquainted with [her] birthplace.” The eldest child of a Japanese mother and an American father, “I identify myself as an Asian-American,” she explains, “but I always take care to note that I have only one Asian parent. So I am literally Asian and American, even though most Asian-Americans are fully Asian but live in America … as uh … Americans.”

Inzer stayed with her grandparents who live in Kashiwa, a small city outside Tokyo, in the house in which her mother grew up. Although Inzer “did almost everything together” with Baba (grandmother), she’s particularly thrilled to venture alone into the trendy Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo where she confronts a Japanese-style toilet, happens upon the same condom store she didn’t understand five years earlier, and gratefully enjoys a Tokyo crêpe.

She visits Kyoto for the first time with Baba, arriving somewhat ironically on the very modern shinkansen (bullet train) into an ancient city known for its temples, gardens … and geisha (get your reaction out of Arthur Golden’s gutter – we’re talking cultural history here). Buddhas, monks, festivals keep her busy until her family arrives to spend the final two weeks of her sojourn together. With her parents and two younger siblings, Inzer is out and about all over Tokyo, to Maidtown for pop culture, to Yoyogi Park to watch middle-aged rockabillies, to Shibuya to sniffle over the statue of the legendary Hachiko.

By the time Inzer returns to America, she confesses, “there are days when I miss Japan. A lot.” But she knows she’ll go back. Regardless of wherever she lands, “I’ll always be halfway home.”

Briefly paused somewhere between childhood and adulthood, Inzer is a sharp observer of all that is happening around her, but also manages to retain plenty of wide-eyed wonder. That she is both insider and outsider allows her to offer her readers more than a perfunctory, stranger-in-a-strange-land travelogue. Her line drawings show insightful sophistication – this is a child who mentions “a transcendental moment” while listening to Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” and eating Häagen Dazs! Her handwritten annotations contain plenty of humor, poignancy, amusement, and whimsy.

Might I mention (again) that she’s just 15 during this trip? Imagine what she might create after she graduates high school! And after college! As an adult! Given what she’s created as a teenager, what’s to come seems to have no limits.

Update from Christine about an “all new version” published by Tuttle in September 2016: Here’s what’s new, she reports…

  1. 48 new pages of comics and photos (128 pages vs. 80 in the original).
  2. New title: Diary of a Tokyo Teen.
  3. Now in full color and larger format (the original book was self-published in b/w).
  4. Book details here.
  5. Fun fact: I am Tuttle’s youngest author. I just turned 19 last Thursday [the end of September 2016].

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014 and 2016

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