THE AMERICAN DREAM?

The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito.

By Shing Yin Khor
Publisher: Zest Books; 1 edition
Publication Date: August 6, 2019

BOOK REVIEW

I was intrigued when I saw Shing Yin Khor’s book about the “American Dream” and, although it was her interpretation of her American Dream, I was absorbed by the illustrations and the promising content.

I want to start with the illustrations. I am also an illustrator and an artist myself (although, not very good) so I do appreciate looking at the nicely done watercolor illustrations and visual contents. I especially love the two-page spreads of landscape illustrations of Owl Canyon, AZ, and Blue Mesa at the Petrified Forest National Park. I love the contrasting color schemes used on the sunset, dusk, the expanse of the landscape, and a few sprinkles of stars in the darkening sky. I liked how she used movements on the paintings to convey people’s (and animals’) expressions and feelings. I like the color scheme overall.

Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
Copyright, Shing Yin Khor

In the beginning, the author described how she longed to understand the concept of the American Dream and hoped to achieve this by undertaking a road trip with her dog, along the historic Route 66. To her, the forgotten era of “tacky roadside attractions, and tiny abandoned towns, and little diners and motels” were the characterization of America “more than anything else.” She had lived in Los Angeles for a number of years and wanted to explore the “real America.” She met people, both friends and strangers in different towns and cities, who aided her in her journey with her quest.

She liked using peculiar words such as “kitsch” and “outsiderness” and, as another reviewer had stated, the writing style may be more suitable for younger readers. Her attention to detail is apparent, however, it can be improved. For instance, the map of the U.S. did not match her state maps–Chicago is by the water and not landlocked (pp 10-11). I couldn’t actually tell if her dog, Bug was a girl or a boy. She referred to the dog as “she/her” but female dogs don’t normally raise their hind leg to pee 😉

In a sense, I somewhat relate to her story. I too am an immigrant to the U.S. but we have two different interpretations of what embodies the American dream.

Towards the end, and halfway through her journey, she had become exhausted and “skeptical that the American dream still existed” but remained hopeful of its potential, just like the deserted waterpark she was sitting on at the time. She may have finally realized that her journey had become ineffectual, as I have also felt the same while getting closer to the end of the book. Her last half of the trip (from Texas to Illinois) seemed rushed compared to the beginning, where she spent almost a quarter of her time mostly in Arizona. By the end, she felt unaccomplished by taking the long road trip. I also felt unfulfilled after going through the rest of the book.

I think that the book title The American Dream? depicts its content precisely, in that she was left uncertain of her purpose in taking this journey (hence having a question mark.) I give this book 3.5 (out of 5) stars.

I cannot help but compare Khor’s memoir with another recently published book with (almost) the same title, I Was Their American Dream by Malika Gharib. I highly recommend Gharib’s book, where she also described her upbringings in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious household and community, and how she had managed to get to where she is now. Read my review to I Was Their American Dream.

Image copyright: Shing Yin Khor’s Portfolio, sawdustbear.comI was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I Was Their American Dream

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir

By Malaka Gharib
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Publication Date: April 30, 2019

BOOK REVIEW

I first learned about Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream on social media then shortly after, I saw it at a local book fair so I had to get it!

This graphic memoir explored significant topics about race and diversity that many of us in America constantly experience. It conveyed something that was familiar to me and yet so unique. Stories like this that are diverse on religion, culture, and nationality topics are rarely seen. Unless I search for them on the Internet and forgotten bookshelves at the library, I don’t get to see stories that I can relate to or read about. More importantly, it was portrayed in a creative way and on a “trendy” medium such as a graphic novel, so I was very excited to have found this book.

This book is quite relevant to me on many levels having immigrated to the United States when I was a teenager. I have certainly been “whitewashed” after having moved away from home at an early age. It is a continuous struggle for me to try and connect with my heritage and I could empathize with many of the instances mentioned in this book. The questions Gharib were asked as a high school student, “What are you?” was a reminder to when I was intermingled with other military service members. Having served in the military, I was exposed to many different types of racial backgrounds and nationalities. Questions such as “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” were more common than having asked, “What’s your name?”

What are you?
“What are you?” Image Credit: Malaka Gharib, NPR.org

Finally, the illustrations and graphics are unpretentious. I like the simplicity of it which supplemented to the great storytelling instead of inundating it with more unnecessary details. As one reader had pointed out, Gharib had used the colors red, white, and blue extensively to represent her American culture among the amalgamation of other events in her life. It’s like she’s telling us that with all the pages in the chapters of her life, they paint the colors that make her a true American.

The one thing that I regret was not knowing that Gharib herself was at the book fair, and it would have been cool to get her autograph my copy 🙂

 

You can find this book on amazon.com

 

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