Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Arrival

by Shaun Tan


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The Arrival

by Shaun Tan

Review posted January 20, 2009.
Arthur Levine Books, New York, 2008.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #1, Teen Graphic Novel

The Arrival is an amazingly effective story of the immigrant experience—told in a graphic novel without any text—or at least without any text that we can understand.

The illustrations, beautifully drawn and wonderfully detailed, show us a man leaving his family behind to go on a long journey. The pictures seem to be telling a historical story of a man traveling to America.

But then he arrives, and we see fantastic animals such as don’t exist on earth (at least that I know about!). The letters of the text on signs are incomprehensible. The clothing is different and strange. The buildings are wild, unfamiliar shapes.

The man must try to find shelter, learn how to use the machines in his dwelling, find food, (including figuring out what it looks like and how to eat it) and find work. He meets other immigrants and hears their stories. And above all, he wants to bring his wife and daughter there to join him.

All this is shown to us without any words we can recognize. By using strange, alien-looking objects and animals, Shaun Tan communicates the strangeness immigrants experience far more effectively than he could ever have done with words.

This book is shelved in the Young Adult section, but can span all ages from upper elementary to adults. The powerful, wonderfully crafted images will stick in the reader’s mind for a long time to come.