Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako

Gender nonconformity is the central theme in this gentle manga story set in contemporary Japan. Shy Nitori Shuichi is a boy who could easily be mistaken for a girl. All of his friends are girls, including Takatsuki Yoshino. Takatsuki-san is tall and handsome. She wishes she could be a boy. Both children are about 10 years old and are classmates in Grade 5 at school.

In a longish afterword, translator Matt Thorn explains some of the word choices he made, since gender and language are inextricably linked. Shimura's artwork is clean and straight-forward, although I sometimes had a little trouble distinguishing similar-looking protagonists.

In volume 1 of Wandering Son, Nitori-kan and Takatsuki-san make hesitant explorations of opposite gender identity, experimenting with clothes and haircuts. Nitori-kan derives a secret pleasure when he buys himself a girl's hairband, for example. Takatsuki-san makes forays into the city while dressed as a boy. The awkwardness typical of their years is portrayed with warmth and humour. They are surrounded by their loving, happy families and school teachers who show genuine care for them. It adds up to a reassuring sense that all will be well for these two as they continue on their journeys to self-knowledge. I look forward to volume 2.

Suitable for Grade 4 and up.

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