Silent meditation retreats are havens for deep, spiritual enlightenment, and it’s the last place Binh wants to be—especially after fighting off a bully in school for having taunted his Vietnamese heritage. From award-winning author and graphic novelist Minh Lê (Drawn Together, Green Lantern: Legacy) and New York Times bestselling illustrator Chan Chau (Baby-Sitter’s Club) comes Enlighten Me, a coming-of-age story steeped in Buddhist traditions, history, and folklore.
The story begins with Binh and his family headed to the peaceful Three Jewels Mountain Retreat, a silent meditation camp where he surrenders his treasured Game Boy upon arriving. This is the last place he expected to find himself after defending himself from a school bully who directed anti-Asian slurs at his Vietnamese culture. Why was he punished for being the victim? The vice principal figured a weekend family trip here would address his violent behavior. He joins the others kids to practice the art of meditation, but before long, sore legs, a stiff back, and disruptive thoughts invade his mind and distract his focus. Not until Sister Peace, one of the Buddhist monks, begins recounting wondrous tales about the Buddha does Binh embark on a path toward self-enlightenment and deep understanding.
The plot shifts into gear as Binh learns about Prince Siddhartha—a young boy sheltered from the evils of the world—who would one day venture beyond the walls of the royal palace, destined to become the Buddha. Another story drawn from the Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha’s past lives, reveals how as a young prince, he wielded five deadly weapons to combat a ferocious monster lurking deep inside a dark forest. In another tale about devotion to family, Buddha in the form of a golden deer gets caught in a trap, so its siblings come to its aid, refusing to leave its side even when a hunter comes along. Lê and Chau have created a delightfully heartwarming story that blends snatches of humor with moments that capture Binh’s hyperactive fascination with videogames. From serene images of nature to the digital world of Donkey Kong, he envisions himself floating through nebulous space in dynamically arranged panels. Events in the present unfold as Binh imagines taking part in adventures from the traditional tales, each one bearing a nugget of wisdom.
Structured in a semi-episodic style similar to the Arabian Nights, Enlighten Me paves an intriguing path into Buddhist philosophies, yet also weaves in themes of bullying, fitting in, self-control, community building, and finding oneself in the moment. This entertaining and thoughtful semiautobiographical graphic novel highlights a unique perspective on how one middle-schooler learns to navigate the challenges of life to find inner peace through self-disciplined mindfulness, thereby adding a culturally enriching experience to middle grade collections.
Enlighten Me Vol.
By Minh Lê
Art by Chan Chau
Little, Brown, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Vietnamese American,
Character Representation: Vietnamese American,