Jen Wang (artist & writer), Lark Pien (colors)
September 10, 2019
Jen Wang, creator of The Prince and the Dressmaker and contributor to several Adventure Time: Fiona & Cake comics, draws from her own life in this personal exploration of identity through simple childhood pleasantries and a budding friendship.
In a Chinese-American suburb, Christine has so far lived her life routinely with comfortable security in her identity. Another girl, named Moon, moves in next door when circumstances hit low for her family. Christine and Moon soon become unlikely friends, exchanging ideas and things that the other has and isn’t.While Christine is studious, tempered, and Christian, Moon is confident, artistic, and Buddhist. When Moon introduces Christine to K-pop, the two are inspired to enter the school talent show—something Christine was initially hesitant to do. Moon eventually tells Christine about her other “friends:” visions of celestial beings speaking from the stars who reassure her that she isn’t of the earth.
Moon’s visions are more than meets the eye, and when harrowing news arrives, Christine is challenged to be there for her new friend in spite of growing frustrations. She realizes her festering emotions are rooted in jealousy, and that even without Moon, she must learn to face her own insecurities.
Drawing directly from her own life, Jen Wang’s Stargazing paints a deeply personal but relatable friendship between the two girls. Wang depicts the experience and struggles of fitting in, contextualized with racial identity and the Asian-American experience. What does it mean to be Chinese? What does it mean to be Asian-American? These themes are not overbearing and are appropriate for a typical middle-grade age reading level.
Through the challenges they face in school life and the compassion they share with their families, the young characters are believable. Christine’s insecurities are projected realistically, such as when she gives in to her father’s growing pressure regarding her academics. Lark Pien’s colors, as per her work on American Born Chinese, compliment Wang’s soft drawing well, creating characters that are both pleasant and heartwarming to empathize with.
The biggest dilemma that arises in the book is through an alarming, yet heartbreakingly realistic twist, but Stargazing does not totally stray and remains on the path of what is an otherwise uplifting story about finding yourself by seeing other perspectives. Ultimately, Moon and Christine discover what it means to be who they are, and neither is inferior to or any less Chinese than the other. Wang accurately depicts the subtle experiences of being the child of immigrants and asks what it means to be othered by your own community.
In addition to a charming art direction, Stargazing explores differences in deeply personal ways by presenting race and culture in a way not often present in graphic novels accessible to younger audiences. Just as it presents a narrative still atypical in this genre, Stargazing encourages readers to take a chance and peer through a different lens once in a while.