December 2019, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

The American Dream? by Shing Yin Khor

The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito by Shing Yin Khor. August 6, 2019. Zest Books, 160 p. ISBN: 9781541578524.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

As a child growing up in Malaysia, Shing Yin Khor had two very different ideas of what “America” meant. The first looked a lot like Hollywood, full of beautiful people, sunlight, and freeways. The second looked more like The Grapes of Wrath—a nightmare landscape filled with impoverished people, broken-down cars, barren landscapes, and broken dreams. This book chronicles Shing’s solo journey (small adventure-dog included) along the iconic Route 66, beginning in Santa Monica and ending up Chicago. What begins as a road trip ends up as something more like a pilgrimage in search of an American landscape that seems forever shifting and forever out of place.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial insensitivity

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Malaysia-born, LA-dwelling Khor introduces the “two Americas” that were their obsessions growing up: a Los Angeles “full of beautiful people and sunlight and open roads” where 10 years of living has also added “lots and lots and lots of traffic,” and a landscape defined by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, in which the Joad family desperately pursues the American Dream. Khor takes that “feeling of desperately searching for something better, for a new start,” and adapts it to their own “pilgrimage” as immigrant and artist traveling historic Route 66—“the part of America that my brain finds more American than anything else.” Traversing from LA to Chicago in their 2010 Honda Fit will require their “tiny adventure dog,” Bug, and the kindness of multiple friends and strangers en route, captured in whimsical full-color detail. The end-of-the-road realizations are (surprise!) not what they expected, but the rewards—of course!—are many. What lingers longest is Khor’s four-panel epilogue, revealing their trip was taken six months before the 2016 elections; in magnifier-necessary micro-font, the penultimate panel confesses, “This comic feels like a record of a time when a brown girl could drive America fearlessly.” Khor, with Bug’s support, refuses to “let those jerks keep us down”—an encouragement to all to also keep going.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2019)
Artist Khor recounts their spring 2016 road trip from Los Angeles to Chicago in this graphic memoir. Growing up in Malaysia, Khor knew two versions of America: “The first was Los Angeles, full of beautiful people and sunlight and open roads,” and the other was the America in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, “filled with dusty roads and big hopes.” After living in the States for 10 years, they and Bug, their “tiny adventure dog,” embark on a journey along historic Route 66, hoping to better understand the American dream. Through bright, expressive watercolor illustrations, Khor portrays the memorable locations they pass through, including a former gold-mining town in Arizona where several Hollywood films were shot; Amarillo, Texas, which has become a haven for refugees; and kitschy attractions including dinosaur statues and the Blue Whale of Catoosa. They detail both the amusing (going to the bathroom outdoors) and emotional (loneliness and exhaustion) challenges of being a traveler. Khor’s pilgrimage is as much an exploration of themself as it is of nostalgic Americana. Their travels inspire them to share insights into their path to atheism, their anger with xenophobia and racism—which are provoked when they find a motel labeled “American owned”—and the meaning of “home.” Many of Khor’s observations will resonate with those who have questioned national identity and the sense of belonging. An informative graphic travel journal that offers important perspectives on being an immigrant and American identity. (Graphic memoir. 12-18)

About the Author

Shing Yin Khor is a cartoonist and installation artist. Her work has been published in The ToastThe NibUpworthyHuffington Post, and Bitch Magazine. She makes the road trip adventure comic Tiny Adventure Journal, and the tender queer science fiction comic Center for Otherworld Science. She is also the author of The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur StatuesMuffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito published by Zest Books.

She lives in Los Angeles. Her websites are www.sawdustbear.com and shingkhor.com

Teacher Resources

Route 66 preservation Lesson Plan

Route 66 Lesson Plan collection

Around the Web

The American Dream? on Amazon

The American Dream? on Barnes and Noble

The American Dream? on Goodreads

The American Dream? on LibraryThing

The American Dream? Publisher Page

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