Re-Gifters by Mike Carey and illustrated by Marc Hempel and Sonny Liew is a charming graphic novel about Dik Seong Jen, known as Dixie to her friends, a Korean American girl who has a crush on a boy, fights with her best friend, has two younger brothers (twins, no less!) who drive her crazy, and is certain her parents wouldn’t understand if she tried to tell them how she really feels. In other words, she’s a pretty typical teenager except she’s also a black belt in hapkido, a traditional Korean form of martial arts.
The illustrations are kept in black and white and shades of grey, perfectly complimenting the overall story. Because of the martial arts, the artists can indulge in some action scenes and there are some very entertaining panels sprinkled throughout.
There are just enough cultural details, including historical allusions, to add some educational merit to what would otherwise just be a typical teenager's story of crushing on a boy. Although the story is told in the first person, the writer carelessly has a few scenes that happen when Jen/Dixie is not present, which shatters the integrity of the text. If the story could not be told without these scenes (and there are a couple that couldn’t be), then the story should not have been told in first person. That an editor didn’t catch this and ask for a revision, is a surprise to me.
Still, it’s a cute enough story and I would rather my daughter/granddaughter read this than some book where the protagonist is not an emotionally honest, healthy individual who has interests beyond obsessing over some guy she can’t have. Okay—so Dixie does obsess a little and, if she doesn’t always make the best decisions, it all turns out well in the end. A good character, a good story that’s not flawlessly told, and the ideal drawings for the story all add up to a fun bit of fluff aimed at tweenagers who will probably never notice the flaws.