Courtney Luk
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Book Reviews

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My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness & My Solo Exchange Diary by Nagata Kabi

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As graphic memoirs are trending, especially ones written and drawn by webcomic artists, Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and her sequel, My Solo Exchange Diary, stand out as queer stories with quite a bit of frankness. Kabi does NOT hold back when discussing her bouts of anxiety, sexual frustrations, awkward and unhealthy familial bond, and of course loneliness. These books illustrate Kabi’s experience as an adult navigating life as a Japanese college dropout living at home with her parents.

Living at home as a 28 year old may not be anyone’s dream, but sometimes that’s where life drops us. After leaving college, Kabi tries to hold down part-time jobs, but her anxiety and depression get in the way. She can’t seem to get out of bed on most days or even eat, spiraling Kabi into a terrible eating disorder. She loses her sense of self, which to Kabi means having security, direction, and purpose. But most importantly, she cannot find a sense of belonging.

Without knowing who she is and where she’s supposed to be, Kabi wallows in grief, disrupting her stability and further disappointing her parents, who seem to only care about Kabi getting a full-time job. Through this, Kabi also deals with loneliness and a lack of physical intimacy. Therefore, Kabi seeks a lesbian escort agency, but when she meets with the escort, it’s not what Kabi expects. She isn’t “cured” in any way but instead plagued with more questions about the way she doesn’t communicate with people outside of her family, fostering a rather Freudian attachment to her mother.

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness not only focuses on Kabi’s sexual repression and awakening but mostly her journey toward self-awareness and self-love, digging her way out of the hole of mental illness, and gaining independence. This is also the case in My Solo Exchange Diary, in which Kabi discusses the aftermath of putting out her debut manga into the world and what’s happening during and post-publication. The reader is privy to the artist’s struggles of creating My Solo Exchange Diary, which is pretty cool and meta.

In the sequel, Kabi works toward communicating with past friends and trying to separate herself from her parents, particularly her mother, who falls ill. Kabi is still dealing with many of the same pains as she does in the first book, which may seem redundant but rings true to life. Kabi moves out, but quickly moves to another apartment, and then moves back in with her family. She recognizes this cycle as similar to the one when she couldn’t hold down a job. Soon, she realizes what responsibility, independence, and unhappiness really means for her.

Throughout this book, Kabi struggles with her relationship with her mother. She wants to be independent but is really reliant on her and wants to please both parents. Her mother even calls Kabi’s debut, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, something to be ashamed of. At the same time, Kabi is still struggling with loneliness, being 29-years-old and having never kissed someone she likes and likes her in return. The idea of loving and being loved is the new aspect in the sequel. Kabi’s quest to find this in a friend she is reunited with, the same lesbian escort agency, and a new acquaintance is the refreshing newness the sequel needs to not be overly repetitive of the first book. Kabi begins to understand her loneliness and the need to love oneself in order to boost her self-esteem. While she still struggles with anxiety and depression, she overcomes some of her ill-fated thoughts of herself. This book is about the journey toward finding oneself in the midst of success yet impending loneliness.

Nagata Kabi has a unique way of illustrating her battles with mental health, particularly in the way she often draws the person she wants to be and a persona of her mind telling her to do whatever it takes to please her parents. There are many images of this persona literally holding back another Kabi, who is reaching for something far away. Kabi also uses black and pink strokes against a white background to illustrate the doom she feels inside her head. Kabi’s images are often literal depictions of philosophical or mental states of anxiety and dilemmas. They are coupled with big, harsh dialogue bubbles (more like large spiky things to emphasize her inner screaming) that describe her thoughts. She isn’t afraid to overuse ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! when illustrating these thoughts, which makes the comic authentic to Kabi’s actual mental state. While the constant usage of these techniques and her setbacks are redundant, this rings true to the side effects of depression and anxiety. Sometimes it feels like one is in a constant state of doom or in a cycle one cannot escape. This book makes the reader experience that nature, which becomes somewhat frustrating, thus perhaps eye-opening to these mental health problems.

Both of Kabi’s books are self-reflective in nature, including narrative commentary from the present Kabi about her past thoughts and emotions. She often says things like, “Later I would learn…” or “Now I know…” The reader is engaging with the musings of the creator, which is not unique to graphic memoirs but gives the reader the idea that one is always learning. And now that this is a series with another book set to be published in 2019, the reader is left wondering how Kabi is doing now and what has developed in her outlook on life and the progress she is making for herself.

Find My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and My Solo Exchange Diary here.