Kate’s Review: “Himawari House”


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Book: “Himawari House” by Harmony Becker

Publishing Info: First Second, November 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Living in a new country is no walk in the park.

When Nao returns to Tokyo to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, she books a yearlong stay at the Himawari sharehouse. There she meets Hyejung and Tina, two other girls who came to Japan to freely forge their own paths. The trio live together, share meals, and even attend the same Japanese-language school, which results in them becoming fast friends. But will they be able to hold one another up as life tests them with new loves, old heartbreaks, and the everyday challenges of being fish out of water?

Review: One of my big regrets from my youth is that I never did a study abroad program through school. My anxiety was too big of a hurdle to overcome, as was my mild separation anxiety from my loved ones when we’re apart for extended periods of time. So I like to read stories about people who take the leap, even if it makes me feel a certain sense of melancholy. So reading “Himawari House” by Harmony Becker was one of those books where I enjoyed seeing others do what I never did, even if their reasons and experiences would have been wholly different from my own had I taken the leap.

“Himawari House” follows three young women who are living in a house share in Japan. Nao is a Japanese born American who has come back to try to reconnect to her roots. Tina is from Singapore and was looking for a change. And Hyejung is from Korea and was looking for a new start. All of them end up at Himawari House as they do their schooling, and a strong friendship forms. We get to know each of them, as well as their growing pains, their motivations, their struggles, and their triumphs. While most of the focus is on Nao, Becker is sure to give a lot of page time to both Tina and Hyejung, and to explore how self discovery can span across cultures for young people. I loved seeing all of them get to know each other, and come to terms with the things that have happened in the past, and how they support each other through and through. There is a little bit of romance in this story for the three of them, but it never feels forced or unnecessary, nor does it feel like it takes focus off of their other threads.

I also liked some of the issues that Becker touched upon, specifically that of Nao who has been living in America for most of her life but was born in Japan. We see that because of her race and country of origin she never felt like she fit in in the U.S., as those around her saw her Japanese heritage first and foremost. But when she arrives in Japan, she is seen as an American first and foremost, and therefore she doesn’t feel like she really fits in anywhere when it comes to her greater cultural experiences. This made her found family in Himawari House all the more touching, and following her year with her new friends and loved ones is joyful, as well as bittersweet in some ways as the story moves forward. I also liked Hyejung’s backstory exploration, as being from Korea her experience was different from Nou’s, but had similar themes as well. For Hyejung her decision to go to Japan has put a rift between her and her parents, and seeing her struggle with missing them but also knowing that she may not be welcomed by them due to her decision is just heart-wrenching.

And I really loved the artwork. I’ve seen Becker’s artistry before, as she did the illustrations for George Takei’s graphic memoir “They Called Us Enemy”, and the style once again paired perfectly with the content, as different as it was from that previous work. I loved the influence of manga styles into the story during various moments of emotion, along with the more traditional and realistic artwork. I also REALLY liked how Becker did the speech bubbles, having both the language that the character is speaking in as well as the English translation in moments where that was what was going on.

(source: First Second)

I found “Himawari House” funny, relatable, joyful, and sweet. This tale of friendship and self discovery is a must read for graphic novel fans.

Rating 8: A charming and sweet coming of age tale about finding yourself as a stranger in a strange land.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Himawari House” isn’t included on many Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Let’s Japan!”.

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