Love Without Labels

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Lora Nakamura will be signing copies of her debut book on Jan. 1 at Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Lora Nakamura will be signing copies of her debut book on Jan. 1 at Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts & Entertainment Editor

Plenty of excitement surrounded the Kickstarter funding and publication of her first book, but Lora Nakamura might understandably be feeling a bit blindsided by the hullabaloo that has followed.

After an article with a somewhat lurid headline appeared in the Pasadena Star-News, the 37-year-old San Gabriel Valley native has found plenty of talk surrounding the intent or underlying message of “The Bonsai Babes: A Love Story,” and not all the comments are complimentary.

“I actually developed these characters about 12 years ago,” Nakamura said of the little girls in her story. “I printed them on shirts to sell and thought I would develop other merchandise with them.”

The two girls, Nana and Luna, were put on hold, however, as Nakamura’s career in social work dominated most of her waking hours. It so happened that an experience with a former boyfriend brought them back to the forefront of her creative consciousness.

The tale finds the two girls with bonsai-like hair styles – one Japanese American, one Mexican American – meeting by chance at a park one day, beginning a friendship, sharing secrets and comforting one another over their fears and insecurities. Fancifully illustrated as though it were meant as a picture book, it’s longer and wordier than most toddler fare. Nakamura has said it is more of an illustrated gift book for all ages.

The controversy began shortly after the Star-News ran its story with the headline “Children’s book hints at lesbian love between 7-year-olds,” a concept Nakamura said was never the intent of the book.

“I didn’t intend for it to be a story of romantic love,” she told The Rafu on Monday. “This is a story of unconditional love, open to anyone. It’s not in a box where it can be classified.”

Nakamura is cautious in choosing her words when discussing the book, deftly avoiding coloring her work in any light. She is perfectly satisfied with keeping it ambiguous, letting readers take their own meaning from their personal interpretations.

Those interpretations have varied, from praise from within the gay and lesbian community to condemnation from others. A mother of twins in Pasadena was quoted in the Star-News that such a topic is inappropriate for kids. Another reader on the paper’s website labeled the work “A reprehensible story by perverts.”

Nakamura said she hoped to highlight some of the local aspects of the story – the characters live in Alhambra and Downtown L.A. – and wanted to focus on themes including embracing differences, finding beauty in ourselves and others, following our hearts and pursuing our dreams. She believes that much of the criticism may stem from the uninformed insecurities of those so readily delivering it.

“A lot of time, their reaction is based on their own personal fears,” she said. “I wanted to focus solely on the love aspect, and I know it can be interpreted many ways.”

Nakamura’s approach might be better explained by her choice of an epigraph for the end of the book, from Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Lora Nakamura will be autographing copies of “The Bonsai Babes: A Love Story” from noon to 3 p.m. on New Year’s Day at the Kinokuniya Bookstore, 123 Astronaut E.S. Onizuka St. in Little Tokyo’s Weller Court. Also signing copies of her books that day will be Japanese author Tatsuko Martin, from 1 to 3 p.m. Call (213) 687-4480 for more information.

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