The concept of sanpaku is that if you have white space above or below your iris that you are doomed. Marcine, the protagonist of Sanpaku by Kate Gavino, becomes obsessed with this idea. She discovers that famous people like JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln have had this affliction.

The author of You are all Sanpaku, a real book that popularized the concept of sanpaku, Sakurawa Myoki, believed that sanpaku was the cause of the West’s decline. He argued that Americans were out of tune with their bodies and the universe. He believed that a diet of brown rice, umeboshi plums, and bancha tea were the cure. Also, that you had to chew your food at least 50 times. Marcine believes it’s a ‘load of crap’ before discovering that her Lola (grandmother) may have it. She becomes overzealous in her pursuit to escape sanpaku and gets rid of all her food except for a can of Spam. Despite all of Lola’s efforts, she soon passes away. Marcine becomes more determined to save others from the curse.

Marcine’s story takes place in the Philippines, where we can see the confluence of two cultures: Filipino and Spanish. Marcine goes to a Catholic private school, and works at a supermarket trying to catch shoplifters. The owner of the supermarket takes pictures of the thieves and posts their picture on a wall. Marcine discovers that her Lola had stolen some Durian jam. Temptation and the need to know what it feels like plague Marcine’s thoughts. She finds herself stealing a paper dog from the store.

Two events—one pulled from the real world, one fictional—have a huge impact on the kind of person Marcine will become. A woman named Vilma is up for consideration for sainthood. At the same time, we learn that Selena, the Tejano singer, has been killed by her manager. Many people feel great sorrow at the loss of Selena. Poetry is written, her music is played on the radio all day long. Sorrow turns into disappointment as a Jehovah’s Witness magazine proclaims that Selena was raised a ‘Jehovah’s Witness’. This leads the mostly Catholic population to assertions that Selena can’t go to heaven, or her death was caused by her religion because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. This goes to show how rumors can destroy or harm a person’s reputation. The same things happens with Vilma. A rumor circulates that Vilma was involved in a lesbian relationship. Vilma had sculpted a version of the Lady of Guadalupe, and used her friend as a nude model. For Marcine, these events reveal how gossip and not facts can impact a person’s legacy.

The graphic novel is the size of a small album. Every illustration is one panel only. The background on each individual page change. Some are in wavy patterns, square shapes, circles, or intricate tiles. This allows us to focus on the characters front and center and put everything else to the side. Everything is black and white, the only color being on the front cover. The art work seemed very basic with the patterns and characters populating the frame. I would have liked more action and less patterns.

Sanpaku is a story for those who like coming of age stories. It offers a unique perspective into a different country and culture. I liked the theme of not following rumors or religious fervor to discover your own path in life. I found Sanpaku to be very culture specific and for somebody outside the Filipino culture there were parts that went above my head. I would recommend this for libraries to expand their Own Voices collections and for those with large Filipino communities. While the story has some adult themes, I would find this suitable for older and mature teens to read.

by Kate Gavino
ISBN: 9781684152100
Archaia, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

  • Tanya

    | She/Her

    Tanya work as a librarian at a maximum security prison in Northern California. She runs a weekly book club which changes themes and genres on a quarterly basis. Her favorite book club moment was watching her book club members perform a play in front of an audience and getting a warm ovation. Tanya is a long-time lover of Manga and animes. Her favorites include anything by Clamp, Fullmetal Alchemist, Wolf Children, Pandora Hearts and Dawn of the Arcana. In her spare time enjoys trying out new recipes from Pinterest.

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