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Shortcomings (Adrian Tomine)

February 1, 2011

A couple of months ago, I picked this graphic novel up in a Barnes & Noble and read the first chapter right there on the floor between the shelves. I didn’t have the cash to purchase it, so I left it there. I thought about it numerous times after that, but either couldn’t afford to purchase it or couldn’t locate it. To keep a short story short, I ended up requesting it from the local library and just picked it up this afternoon. Turns out it’s a quick and addictive read. Even though Ben Tanaka is a thoroughly prickly and unlikeable protagonist, the issues Tomine tackles through Ben’s dating debacles — as well as those of his ex-girlfriend, Miko, and his gay friend, Alice — were really interesting to me on both a personal and a professional level.

As I watched Ben criticize Miko for becoming so political and getting so invested in her ethnicity, I couldn’t help but think of how the way I see the world is changing as I immerse myself in the scholarship of Ethnic Studies, and as I teach US Ethnic Literature to undergrads at OSU. Recently, I was chatting with a colleague about the field of Asian American Studies, and she was saying that she’s not really interested in pursuing those particular politics (she had a lot of reasons for this, but I’m not going to go into that right now) in her own scholarship. I found myself tempering my desire to articulate all the reasons I think those politics are important, and it made me think about how much I’ve invested myself in those very politics.

Okay, so I’m not talking about Tomine’s amazing graphic novel, but it’s all related. As I watched his characters grow and change (or possibly not do either, as may be the case with Ben), I felt compelled to examine how I have (or have not) grown with relation to the issues surrounding race that Tomine brings up throughout the novel. I’d really recommend this comic to anyone looking for a thought-provoking and entertaining read…plus, the illustrations are quite lovely, and the simple style really adds to the storyline. Give this one a chance if you haven’t already!

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