cover image Sanpaku


Kate Gavino. Archaia, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-68415-210-0

Marcine, a 12-year-old Filipino-American girl, becomes obsessed with sanpaku after the death of her beloved grandmother, in this quirky but earnest black-and-white graphic novel set in 1995. Sanpaku is a Japanese term for the phenomenon where eyes have the whites visible beneath the iris, which Marcine’s grandmother has, and she believes signifies impending doom (but can be cured with a macrobiotic diet). Her grandmother tells stories of historical figures and celebrities, from Abraham Lincoln to Marilyn Monroe, whose tragedies were the result of this eye-split fate. In a series of linked vignettes, Marcine learns about her grandmother’s past, navigates the fraught territory of Catholicism and puberty, and tries to help her friends circumvent certain doom by teaching them to ward off this iris-splitting threat. Then, an unlikely rivalry between the Mexican-American fans of the recently murdered singer Selena and Filipino-American devotees of a would-be saint, Vilma Vielique, becomes the unexpected impetus of Marcine discovering her burgeoning sexual awareness. Each one-panel page is drawn like a rough-hewn woodblock, with backgrounds patterned as if textiles or wallpaper. Marcine’s desire to find order in the confusing ordeals of adolescence resonates, and her cynical yet naive worldview provides a deadpan humor to a unique coming-of-age story. Agent: Kate McKean, Morhaim Literary (Aug.)