by Miwa Ueda
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
Sometimes it’s not just the comic that determines whether you like it or not, but the circumstances in which you find it. Peach Girl was one of the earlier manga series I flipped through, but it wasn’t until the story was reissued in the right-to-left “authentic” format that it clicked with me.
Perhaps that’s because I’ve gained a new appreciation for and am much more familiar with shôjo teen romance, or perhaps it’s because the art reads more smoothly in its original format. Regardless, this is a fun, engrossing soap opera with a likable, unusual heroine.
Momo is the title character. Her name means “peach”, and her swim team activities give her blonde hair and a darker skin that her culture finds unattractive. Her looks make people think she’s an easy party girl, to the extent that slimy older men on the street offer her money for sex. It’s funny to see someone who’s so attractive in a stereotypically American “California girl” style spend the whole book lamenting her appearance, in a “be careful what you wish for” kind of way.
Momo’s also got a temper, which allows her to stand up for herself — if only she could do so in a more acceptable way than punching people. She’s torn in her affections between goofy playboy Kiley and Toji, the boy she’s had a crush on for years. The situation is complicated by the misunderstandings that spread through gossip, with various scenes sparked by overheard rumors or misinterpreted sightings of secret meetings.
When Momo’s classmate Sae gets involved, things take a definite turn for the worst, since Sae excels at lying and manipulation. She’s classically pretty, and there are hints that she hangs out with Momo just to make herself look prettier. Sae’s used to getting everything she wants, in contrast to Momo’s lack of self-esteem, so it galls Sae when Momo gets attention from the two hottest boys in class just by being herself. Sae’s jealousy is evilly attractive to read about. I’d hate to know someone like her, but she’s a great character to hate.
There’s more going on in the story than is obvious at first sight, and the characters are refreshingly non-exaggerated. At that age, just a word or two can cause a teen to call everything they believe into question; Peach Girl realistically turns that tendency into entertaining twists and story turns. The overall message of the book, spelled out in notes from the author, is that Momo will be happy when she learns to accept herself for who she is, regardless of what false friends and her culture tell her.