Fish out of water stories always make one sympathize with the hero, recognizing how frustrating, irritating, and occasionally exhilarating the risk of living in a new place can be. In this case, our hero is Joel, a Canadian in Korea working as an English teacher. Unfortunately for Joel, after a year in Korea the irritations are far outweighing the moments of contentment. It’s been months since Joel felt the thrill of finding his world exotic and interesting rather than wearisome and off-putting. He hasn’t been comfortable in what feels like an age and sees no hope for any change on the horizon. Tired of feeling out of sync with his entire world, he’s more and more convinced that it’s time to retreat. Torres and Kim do an excellent job of showing all of the needling moments when Joel feels lost, from sitting on the train on the way to work to eating a tasty snack without having any idea what it is until too late. Many of the panels are wordless, showing how much Joel is both lonely and in self-imposed isolation in his refusal to learn Korean. After the third battle with an apparently un-killable beetle who’s decided to take up residence in his rooms, Joel finally breaks. Then life throws him a twist. He meets Hana, the foxy new Korean secretary for his institution. Can love renew his desire to stay?

Eric Kim’s art has a manhwa flair to it that works well considering the location of the story and the expressions and pacing of his panels are priceless. J. Torres knows just how to pace the dialogue to match the many scenes of quiet and maintains a sense of humor throughout that keeps the bitterness from being too heavy. All in all, a romantically hopeful comic that suits any middle school or high school collection, especially in a world where more and more teens are yearning to travel east.

Love as a Foreign Language, vol. 1
Available in: Love as a Foreign Language: Collected Edition, vol. 1
J. Torres, art by Eric Kim
ISBN: 9781932664416
Oni Press, 2006 (collected edition)

  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

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