Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 124

A Girl On The Shore

by Inio Asano, translated by Jocelyne Allen
Pages: 410
Genre: drama, romance, school, how very hard it is to bridge the space between two people
ISBN: 1941220851 (Amazon)

I was unsure if I should talk about this book. It's about two young teens in an unhealthy-but-probing sexual relationship—so there's a substantial amount of sex and nudity. (When another reviewer said that 70% of the book was sex, that seemed a bit high so I actually counted: 12% of its 410 pages include a sex act or nudity of some kind. That's still a not-insubstantial percent.)

The book is not going to be for everyone in the same way that Schindler's List is not going to be for everyone. In the same way that Corn Dog Man is not going to be for everyone. In the same way that Irreversible, Before Midnight, Amelie, and even Snow Falling On Cedars are not going to be for everybody.

So I leave this to reader discretion.

A Girl on the Shore opens with an awkward post-coital walk along the shore of a somnambulant little town in which two ninth graders discuss whether to forge a romantic relationship out of what the girl viewed as a virginity-losing one-afternoon stand. The girl, Sato, wanted a bit of sex in order to feel something, to rage against the way another boy (the one she pines for) abuses her and is dismissive to her. She instinctively reaches out for a measure of control and convinces Isobe, who’s long been attracted to her, to put a little sugar in her bowl (to euphemistically borrow from Nina Simone). She knows he will, and so she takes advantage of that attraction. She’s still unfilled, but she’s awakened a curiosity and a need.

All of this happens before page 1, and Asano allows us to join them in media res as Isobe asks Sato if she wants to be his girlfriend. But she doesn’t think of him like that and cannot be involved with him romantically while she is hoping against hope that Misaki, the cad of her dreams, will finally return her affections. It takes a couple days, but Isobe and Sato iron out a kind of rhythm in which they engage in frequent, escalating, no-strings-attached sexual exploration. The trick of course, as every story ever has taught us, is that we can’t always see the strings that guide us, bind us, and draw us. Especially not when our eyes are glued tight in orgasmic ecstasy.

Things play out as they will as the kids head toward graduation and on to high school, and everyone discovers that the things they believed so deeply and strongly were most likely only their eager imaginations, fueling and burning in engines of youthful madness and indiscretion. There’s a certain profane beauty and chaos to it all. In some ways it reflects the common boy-girl experience and in other ways is horrifyingly unique. There is nothing healthy being explored, but the whole experiment was never about health. It was about overcoming alienation and extorting life into healing without bandaids or antiseptic.

While one could be forgiven for thinking A Girl On The Shore is about a very young man and a very young woman having sex, a more legitimate back-of-book description would involve some attempt to express the characters’ efforts to find what they’re looking for, even while they have no real idea what they’re looking for. Love. Solace. A good bone. Meaning. Purpose. Catharsis. Control. Freedom. A reason not to float away into nothingness. A Girl On The Shore is predicated on the idea of finding things unsought. In their evolution from children to adults, Sato and Isobe will see their heavens rolled back as a scroll and epiphanies will rain down on them in the most mundane and everyday sorts of ways. But that happens to us all. The only remaining question then is what these two will do with their own unique revelations.

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