Tonoharu by Lars Martinson
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Published by Pliant Press
Released May 1, 2008
Whenever I’m at my local library, I always try to search out a couple of books I’ve never heard of before to check out. I’ll walk down random aisles, grabbing books off the shelf until I find something that sounds interesting. Tonoharu by Lars Martinson was one of those books for me.
I was near the graphic novel aisle looking for some Neil Gaiman titles when I randomly picked this one up. The synopsis on the back details the story of Daniel Wells, an American who travels to Japan to become an assistant junior high school teacher in a rural community. The story is about Daniel’s loneliness in a culture where he barely speaks the language.
The aspect of this graphic novel that I enjoyed the most was the art. Done in black and white, it’s incredibly appropriate for the story and is entertaining to look at. I’m always impressed by artists who can portray emotions on drawn faces so simply, and Martinson is definitely gifted in that department. I also liked the simple layout of the book.
Daniel’s story showed how isolating a language barrier can be, and also how hard it can be to settle into a new city. Even without a different language to tackle, moving to a place where you don’t know anyone is daunting and the struggle of making new friends as an adult is very difficult (I’m speaking from experience here). It’s refreshing to see a writer/artist tackle that topic.
I found myself wanting more from the story, however, and the reason I’m rating this graphic novel three stars is that I never felt connected to the characters or cared that much about them. The book is short and a quick read, so perhaps if it had been longer it would have been easier to connect with Daniel. When I don’t feel that connection with the main character, I find that I quickly forget the plot and find myself not wanting to ever come back to the story. There is a sequel to Tonoharu, but I won’t be reading it.
I would like to stress that Tonoharu is a well-made graphic novel and I would recommend it to people wanting something different, but I just wished there had been more to it.