Rumi Hara has dedicated Nori to her two grandmothers, and it is obvious why; this dreamy graphic novel is a loving portrait of a grandmother and four-year-old granddaughter navigating life’s adventures.
We get to know Nori and Grandmother through vignettes from their everyday life in 1980s Kyoto as they run errands, go to local festivals, and adjust to the rules and routines of nursery school. Nori is a wanderer, always taking advantage of a brief lapse in her grandmother’s attention to follow a cat or some other enticing distraction. Nori welcomes the jarring good luck omen of bats in the house, races after a band of rabbits headed to the moon, and befriends a gang of boys playing in a muddy ditch. Everywhere she goes, Nori encounters magic, from the grinning bats to a playful tadpole who offers to trade his tiny sneakers for Nori’s new sandals.
Hara strikes a natural balance between the magical realism of Nori’s world and the realistic tensions of her family. On one page, we’ll see rabbits take to the sky, and on another, her mother and grandmother will argue about how best to raise her. Nori’s Grandmother takes care of her because Nori’s mother works, and the tension this creates in the family will be familiar to many. Nori is awakened every morning by the slam of the door as her mother departs for work, and the day begins with Nori’s yell of “MOMMY!” Things calm down from there, but Nori wants to be carried and Grandmother’s back hurts too much to carry her far. When she’s put down, Nori runs after a cat and disappears. Grandmother scolds Nori’s mother for picking her up at the drop of the hat, but scolds her again when Nori cries at being put down. Nori’s parents are late for her nursery school play and miss her performance. These tensions, so common in busy, multi-generational families, run through each chapter without detracting from the playful tone.
Although Hara’s people and settings are rendered lovingly in ink with a monochrome wash, her drawings are never romanticized or overly pretty. Nori‘s end papers are decorated with illustrations of the commonly overlooked objects of a child’s life: a plastic watering can, a snow globe, a favorite jacket, a rubber duck. Hara depicts Nori’s life the way some people remember their childhoods: in tiny vivid details that add up to something larger. The visual style sometimes floats into manga tropes, as when Nori’s new classmate insults her lunch bento and Nori punches him in the mouth, causing a tooth to shoot out.
Nori will appeal to readers who enjoy nostalgic childhood stories, those interested in Japanese culture and history, and even manga fans looking to branch out. Retailing for over $20 US, Nori is a better purchase for medium or large graphic novel collections. Smaller collections might consider it where dreamy childhood tales or manga are popular. Nori will be shelved with adult collections, but should also be recommended for young readers with an interest in imaginative stories or Japanese culture.
By Rumi Hara
Drawn and Quarterly, 2020
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: Japanese