Feb 16, 2012

Wandering Son vols. 1 and 2 by Takako Shimura

Wandering Son vol. 1 by Takako Shimura Wandering Son vol. 2 by Takako Shimura

Wandering Son tells the story of two pre-teens: Shuichi Nitori, a shy, quiet fifth-grader, is beginning to suspect he would rather have been born a girl. When he and his older sister change schools, he befriends Yoshino Takatsuki, a self-assured girl who is certain she would rather be a boy. The first two volumes of this manga series follow the two protagonists through fifth grade and the beginning of sixth grade, a time of awkwardness and uncertainty for most children. Shuichi and Yoshino slowly begin to make sense of their gender identity, and along the way they try to learn to navigate their complex social world.

Takako Shimura’s work is slow-paced, subdued, subtle, and full of sensitivity and empathy. This is true of the transgender themes at the forefront of Wandering Son, but it’s also true of how she portrays the experience of being a preteen in general. She takes her young characters’ feelings absolutely seriously: she understands the catastrophic proportions social embarrassment can take at this age, for example, or how momentous something as simple as looking in the mirror and noticing the first changes of puberty in one’s body can be. There is a lot that isn’t outright said but is implied by the characters’ facial expressions, by their hesitations, by the sentences they can’t bring themselves to finish.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura

Wandering Son is not a series that shies away from displaying children’s ability to be extremely cruel to one another, but at the same time, this is far from an unrelentingly sad story. Not everything is roses for Shuichi and Yoshino, but there are plenty of people who love them, moments when they feel understood, and glimpses of a future where they’ll be able to be who they want to be. It was wonderful to find a portrayal of transgender experiences that isn’t exclusively focused on misery and suffering. Transphobia is very real in the world of Wandering Son, but it’s not the sole defining factor in these characters’ lives.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura

The two children take to cross-dressing and going out together after school, to places where they know they won’t be recognised and will be able to freely experiment with new identities. Shimura portrays these moments as moments of true pleasure and happiness for her characters: Shuichi and Yoshino discover the wonderful feeling of being perceived by others according to their real gender identity, rather than their sex of birth. In one of these outings, they befriend Yuki, a transgender woman who becomes first adult to truly validate their experiences.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura

Wandering Son is about being transgendered, but this is presented in the rich, multifaceted context of these children’s lives. What we have here is also a story about the awkwardness of puberty, the experience of growing up and making sense of who you are, and the solace and support to be found in friendship. Yoshino and Shuichi are sometimes lonely and sometimes confused, but they have each other and they have other friends.

There are references to other books in Wandering Son, namely Anne of Green Gables and Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories. While these classic children’s stories are very different from this manga series, they’ll actually give you a very good idea of what to expect from Wandering Son in terms of tone, pace and mood.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura
An allusion to the famous slate-breaking scene from Anne of Green Gables.

Wandering Son is a quiet, gentle story mainly focused on little moments between people, on the significance of small social interactions, and on the two young protagonists’ inner lives. It’s a beautiful series, and I anxiously await the release of volume three.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura

Reviewed at: Lindy Reads and Reviews, Experiments in Reading

(Have you reviewed it too?)

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through one of my affiliates links I will get 5%.


Debi said...

Must must must find these. Soon. Seriously, I think this is as excited as I've been on hearing about a new-to-me book/series as I've been in a very long time!

intoyourlungs said...

I absolutely must get my hands on these. I've been reading a lot of literature about transgendered people because of school and I've been wanting to seek out more. This looks like a great place to start.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds fantastic! What a relief it must be for children with feelings like that to have a book they can relate to.

Amy said...

Oh these sound really lovely. I hadn't heard of them before.

Zibilee said...

Oh, this does sound like a very necessary and intriguing graphic novel series, and I am glad that you enjoyed it. I agree wholeheartedly with Kathy's comment above.

Kailana said...

This sounds really good! On to the wish list it does go. I mainly like the Anne of Green Gables picture...

Tiina said...

These sound wonderful! Have you heard about the French movie Tomboy? It deals about some of the same isuues as these books & is such a lovely movie. I saw it at a film festival last year & am eagerly waiting for the dvd, which will be published next month.

Nymeth said...

Debi: It's such a lovely series. Hopefully they'll translate more volumes before too long!

intoyourlungs: If you have recommendations, I'd love to hear them!

Kathy: Yes! It makes me extra happy that a story like this exists.

Amy: The English translations are pretty recent. Hopefully they'll get more attention as more volumes come out.

Zibilee: I really hope the series finds its way to the hands of kids in that situation. I can imagine it making a huge difference.

Kailana: Isn't it awesome? I had to include it :D

Tiina: I hadn't heard of it before, but now I really want to watch it! Thank you so much for the recommendation.

Tiina said...

I read volume 1 today and absolutely loved it! Can't wait to read vol 2., though I must, as my library doesn't have it yet.:(
Here's the link to Tomboy's official site: http://tomboymovie.com/