Hello, hello, if you missed my review for Zara Hossain is Here you can find my review and all the details about the book in this post. This here is a [spoiler-free] post collecting some of my favorite quotes from the book that resonated or expressed something meaningful to me. These quotes demonstrate Zara’s fierceness, her vulnerability, her tenderness, her way of navigating a hostile world, her sense of home and belonging, and her joy.
“The thing is, when it comes to me, Nick can be overprotective. Even though I never act like a damsel in distress, Nick has always seen himself as my knight in shining armor. I’ve never needed a knight. I can wield my own damn sword when I need to.”
“Just then a chorus erupts from our side, everyone calling out ‘Trans rights are human rights!’ We join in as the crowd’s energy rises, and I can’t help feeling lucky that I get to do this. It feels good to shout and drown out the hateful rhetoric coming from the opposite side of the street. It feels good to do something.”
“I’m exhausted from the burden of representing almost two billion people. It’s gotten to the point where anytime there’s a crime reported in the news, I find myself praying that the perpetrator is white and non-Muslim.”
“My heart is beating a million miles per second, and I have the urge to burst into song. Something romantic and cheesy from a Shah Rukh Khan movie.”
“My parents love me unconditionally, even when I put them in difficult situations. They only care about my happiness, not what society tells them they should care about. And I respect them so much for it. I have friends who struggle with who they are because their families don’t accept them. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I could never really be with someone they didn’t love too. And I know they will love Chloe.”
“It’s so easy to paint all the people you don’t want to accept with the same brush. That way you can tell yourself you’re just protecting your way of life and that they’re the ones encroaching upon your space.”
“I look at her and suddenly realize that she has little to no idea what I’m talking about. […] Chloe carries her white privilege with her wherever she goes, whether she’s aware of it or not. She can blend in completely whereas I will always be a clear target. And there are so many who’re looking to take a shot.”
“Home. Such a loaded word. It’s strange to think that perhaps for my parents this has never really been home. Even though they chose to come here and built a good life, to them home will probably always mean Pakistan, where they grew up surrounded by my extended family and people who looked like them, where they didn’t have to explain their existence constantly. But to me, Corpus is home. It’s where all my memories were born even though I wasn’t.”
“Even though, on a basic level, I completely understand that my parents will always want to protect me, I’m angry that they want me to give up. But maybe I’m also angry because, on a deeper level, I know what they’re saying is true. Even if I somehow manage to stop two people, hundreds, maybe thousands, more will take their place. I see it every day, at school and online. The hatred is palpable, and people are no longer shy or reluctant to express their true feelings. Racists are becoming more emboldened every day, and it’s not just in Corpus Christi; it’s happening all over the country. But still, I’m determined to stay strong.”
“How do I deal with someone who’s convinced that his right to exist in this world trumps mine?”
“‘What kind of father lets his own child sacrifice her future for her parents?’ He looks at me, and there is so much pain in his eyes that I would do anything to make it go away.”
Ramadan Mubarak and happy new year to those who are celebrating/observing those holidays! I’m happy to be participating in the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices for Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan, whose debut, The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali I loved in 2019.
Publisher: Scholastic Release Date: April 6, 2021 Genre: YA Fiction
Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.
Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.
But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.
From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.
Zara is much like any other teen child of immigrants in her middle class social stratum, just trying to get through high school and apply to good colleges to make those sacrifices her parents endured worth it. Unfortunately, she attends an ultra-conservative and white-dominated Catholic high school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She fights back in all the ways she can, participating in rallies and other organized actions to fight injustice with her school’s Social Justice Club, which is run by a beloved queer mentor figure, Ms. Talbot. However, when Zara and her family become victims of a series of racist and anti-Muslim hate crimes, she struggles to know how to act and react because her family’s immigration status is on the line.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is how much space Zara is given to be angry. People of color are often told our anger is too much and must be downplayed lest we be seen as aggressive and “hurting our own cause.” Zara says fuck that and calls out whiteness at every opportunity, even to the white girl she starts dating.
Even as she is filled with righteous anger, Zara is also depressed and uncertain for a lot of the book. I found that aspect incredibly realistic and relatable given the way current events have affected me and everyone I know. As someone with a strong sense of justice and material stakes in various issues, it often feels impossible to take down systems that are so much bigger than a single person. When the violence comes from those who are powerful and well connected and from policies enacted at the national level, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. Zara’s story tries to challenge that feeling and highlight some of the actions one can take to push for change.
This book is at its core a celebration of love in all its forms. Although it deals with the painful issue of hate crimes, bigotry, and oppression, it never fails to highlight the light and hope in the world. Zara may feel alone at times, but she has loyal and caring friends, family, mentors, and comrades who are there to fight alongside her, hold space for her, and pick up the slack for her when she’s struggling.
Her two best friends, Nick and Priya, were the epitome of friendship goals. And while it wasn’t the primary focus of the story, Zara’s romance with Chloe was sweet to watch take root and bloom. There is a bit of a rough patch where they have to confront the tensions of an interracial relationship where one person is white while the other is a person of color, but Chloe has enough self-awareness that allows her to do better by Zara after she messes up. The tenderness of their relationship and mutual support in the face of their respective difficulties (Chloe is dealing with her conservative Christian parents being hostile to her queerness) was really moving.
Zara’s relationship with her parents forms the beating heart of the story. Her parents are her anchor and her refuge, and she’s constantly trying to avoid making them worry for her, sometimes to her own detriment. The events of the book strain her relationship with them because even as she is searching for a way to stay in the U.S., the only place she knows as home, her parents are trying to reconcile their sacrifices and aspirations as immigrants with the hostile environment toward brown Muslim immigrants. Zara feels caught between following her parents and holding onto her own life that she’s built for herself.
The final thing I wanted to touch on in this review is how much I appreciated having supportive parents to a queer main character. In the case of Asian and Muslim families, representations of queerness tend to favor stories where the parents are completely unaccepting and oppressive, which is part of a broader pattern of racist stereotypes that assume people of color, especially Asian people, are generally and even universally more bigoted toward queer people compared to white people. The reality is much more complex and diverse. Zara’s parents accept her bisexual identity unconditionally and offer a safe space for Chloe as well. Her mother teases her affectionately about her crush on Chloe while also fighting the bigoted aunties who want to gossip at Zara’s expense. Her father, too, does not let anyone mess with Zara. I hope more queer books with positive parent-child relationships will follow.
Sabina Khan is the author of ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE (Scholastic/ April 6, 2021) and THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI (Scholastic, 2019). She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two daughters and the best puppy in the world.
I put together a playlist of some mandopop songs from the 2000-2010 era that I thought went well with Love and Other Moods. You can listen to the whole thing on YouTube or click on the hyperlinks corresponding to each song below. I’ve provided some commentary on why I chose the songs in question along with translations of some of the lyrics (done by me).
中國話 (Chinese) – S.H.E
I felt a little conflicted about including this song because I find it to be super problematic. It’s a song that’s about the increased global trendiness of “the Chinese language,” which is the title of the song. It’s problematic because it pushes Standard Mandarin as the representative language of a very linguistically diverse country. It’s also problematic because the singers, the girl group S.H.E, are actually Taiwanese but are singing about being “中國人,” which is often translated as simply “Chinese” but specifically means “Chinese” in terms of nationality, that is, a citizen of the PRC. This kind of posturing to sell an image of Chinese nationalism is by no means unique to S.H.E as a group; multiple Taiwanese celebrities will do this or at least downplay their Taiwaneseness in order to stay in the good graces of the Chinese market. In fact, it’s partially because of this very problematic theme that I felt this song was representative of Love and Other Moods, which as I mentioned in my review, deals with the nationalistic pride of Chinese people in an age of China’s increasing economic power.
Here’s a snippet of the translated lyrics:
Marilyn in London bought a qipao to gift to her mother A -vsky1 in Moscow fell in love with beef dough dumplings2 [People of] Varying skin colors, varying hair colors, In their mouths, what they recite and what they speak: The Chinese language has started becoming trendy
For so many years we laboriously practiced English pronunciation and grammar In recent years it’s switched to them curling their tongues3 Learning the changes of level, rising, departing, entering4 Level-level-oblique-oblique-level-level-oblique5 So intelligent the Chinese people So elegant the Chinese language
The whole world is learning the Chinese language The language of Confucius6 is becoming more and more international The whole world is speaking the Chinese language The language we speak makes the whole world attentive and obedient
(First two lines since the rest is the same as lines 3-10 of Verse 1)
Susanna of New York opened a Zen style lounge bar Wolfgang from Berlin pairs the huqin7 with the electric guitar
This is an ethnic stereotype generalizing Russian people as having a last name that ends in -vsky, such as Tchaikovsky or Dostoevsky.
The original is 麵疙瘩 which doesn’t seem to have a common translation in English but is a type of noodle/pasta that’s sometimes compared to gnocchi.
This refers to the retroflex consonants in Chinese that are romanized using “h” in pinyin—”zh,” “ch,” “sh”—plus “r.”
This terminology is used in the formal classification of the tones in Chinese linguistics.
This refers to a tonal pattern in classical Chinese poetry.
The version of Chinese that Confucius spoke sounds nothing like any modern Chinese language. This is like saying King Arthur’s language (Old English) is internationally dominant today lmao.
Huqin is a type of traditional Chinese stringed instrument that is bowed, the most well-known of which is the erhu.
獨立 (Independence) – 蜜雪薇琪 (Michelle and Vickie)
This song is meant to represent Naomi’s experiences of establishing herself and becoming independent after her breakup with Seth unmoors her.
Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics:
Who will know first how many possibilities there will be? Subtracting out half of myself and then colliding with each other I didn’t expect that it would turn out even better—I have two of me Appreciating you, complimenting me, challenging you, resolving me In the faceoff, I see my true self
Love allowed me to wise up and become independent, using myself to love people Getting the things I want, one half [of me] is already established Preparing to become independent at any time, not greedy and not aggrieved Bravely breaking through every experience, it’s all about myself
威風時刻 (Majestic Moment) – 孫耀威 (Eric Sun)
If you look closely you’ll notice that the title of the song shares a word in common with the artist’s name. I think that’s probably deliberate. This is a celebratory song about the highs of an unprecedented love that I feel expresses Dante’s feelings toward Naomi.
Translated lyrics (by me):
Come with me And bring your resolve Your love is the whole world So sing then Advancing toward an unknown craze With you I’m not afraid of anything
You shook off those romantic words delivered with fresh flowers You’d rather endure the wind and rain to run to the ends of the earth with me In this moment, who is richer and freer than I am? It’s like I’ve stepped onto the world’s red carpet to speak
I’ve never felt so happy before True love is so hard to come by Happiness is thus bestowed upon me In this majestic moment I’ve never felt so happy before The world extends so far and wide I’m loving so freely In this majestic moment
我和幸福有約定 (I Have a Date with Blessedness) – S.H.E
This is another song by girl group S.H.E. I picked this one because it alludes to a long-distance relationship and also mentions Taipei and Tokyo, the two cities that Naomi identifies with because her family hails from those two places. The English title I provided is the official title on the music video and listed on Wikipedia, but I personally don’t find it to be completely right, so in the translated lyrics I changed it. The phrase 幸福 means happiness but refers specifically to a long-term happiness of being content with life rather than a fleeting happiness of the moment.
Good night, Tokyo Is it still raining? Taipei has nice weather I miss you a lot
The starlight dazzles It’s so great that I could meet you in this life Oh, I believe Even without saying anything You still know
Because the dreary world has you in it Everything changes So that even a night-old cup of cheap coffee Becomes fragrant and sweet
Unafraid, unworried I have a deal with happiness Even if I’m lonely I’ll ignore it Because longing reduces love’s distance to zero
For your sake, I’m willing To put more effort into taking care of myself I also ask that you never forget We once had a deal with happiness
給我你的愛 (Give Me Your Love) – TANK
This is a sweet and straightforward love song about wanting to spend the future together with someone that expresses love through hyperbole. It’s a more mellow representation of Dante’s love for Naomi.
Waiting little by little You feel at ease with me It feels like our friendship Has a new rapport It can’t be bought in the convenience store The thing we want the most Is only found in the hands of the person we like
Give me your love Let me accompany you to the future Give me your love Hand in hand, not letting go Even if the cosmos explodes And the seawater all evaporates I only wish that your memories Include my embrace
My greatest happiness Was discovering that I love you My spirit has gained meaning I cherish it with every single day It can’t be bought in the convenience store The thing we want the most Is only found in the hands of the person we like
Give me your love Let me accompany you to the future Give me your love Hand in hand, not letting go Even if the Earth is destroyed And it’s too late to shed tears I only wish that your memories Include my embrace
The year is already 1/4 over, which sounds fake, but here we are. My most recent read and the book being featured on my blog today is Love and Other Moods. When I saw that Love and Other Moods was New Adult and by a Taiwanese American author I hit the sign up so fast. There aren’t a ton of books by Taiwanese Americans in general, let alone NA, so I was pretty excited. YA is great, but I’m 28 now and having characters my age is nice. I’m reviewing this book as a part of the Bookstagram tour hosted by Colored Pages. You can check out the #LoveAndOtherMoodsTour tag on IG to see the other stops on the tour as well as enter the tour giveaway. You can see my Bookstagram post with my pictures of the book there as well.
Title: Love and Other Moods Author: Crystal Z. Lee Publisher: Balestier Press Publication Date: December 10, 2020 Genres: New Adult
Naomi Kita-Fan uproots her life from New York to China when her fiancé’s company transfers him to Shanghai. After a disastrous turn of events, Naomi finds herself with no job, no boyfriend, and nowhere to live in a foreign country.
Amidst the backdrop of Shanghai welcoming millions of workers and visitors to the 2010 World Expo, we meet a tapestry of characters through Naomi: Joss Kong, a Shanghai socialite who leads an enviable life, but must harbor the secrets of her husband, Tay Kai Tang. Logan Hayden, a womanizing restaurateur looking for love in all the wrong places. Pan Jinsung and Ouyang Zhangjie, a silver-aged couple struggling with adapting to the ever-changing faces of their city. Dante Ouyang, who had just returned to China after spending years overseas, must choose between being filial and being in love. All their dreams and aspirations interweave within the sprawling web of Shanghai.
Right off the bat the prologue establishes the context for the story with a first person plural narration, a choir of voices speaking their truths: these are diaspora kids who grew up across the globe settling down in Shanghai, a city of contradictions and possibilities. The histories that shaped these characters and this city, which is a character in its own right, are laid out.
The story begins with a wedding and a breakup that precipitate the remainder of the story. Naomi, who is mixed Japanese and Taiwanese American, breaks things off with her fiance Seth and must figure out how to survive in Shanghai alone. Naomi’s friend Joss marries Tay, not realizing that their married life will take a departure from the usual script for their culture.
The primary focal character is Naomi, who undergoes the most change and development throughout the story. However, the other characters do get chapters from their point of view, giving the reader a glimpse of their subjective worlds. These characters are flawed and real, each carrying their own burdens and weaknesses that bring tension to and drive the story. Although some aspects of the plot feels plucked from Asian dramas, the conflicts are genuine and realistic; the detail and texture of the story lend it substance and nuance.
Setting in the story during the 2010 World Expo underlines the major themes of the book: the rise of China on the world stage, the increasingly interconnectedness of human activity across the globe, and the tensions of ethnic/nationalistic chauvinism and how heavy histories in world history inform the lives of everyone on an interpersonal level. The story would be quite different if it were set in a different time and place.
One of the fun parts of reading this book was that a lot of the pop culture references were familiar to me. The mandopop singers that were name-dropped made me feel Seen as a diaspora kid who often consumed more media from the homeland than from the U.S. Ironically, Naomi doesn’t know who most of these people are at the beginning of the story because she grew up pretty disconnected from that part of her heritage. She slowly picks up the culture as she spends more time immersed in the Shanghainese, Chinese environment.
Another extremely recognizable part of the story was the fragility of the Chinese government’s ego when it comes to “sensitive” and “controversial” topics such as Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, border disputes with India, etc. Naomi goes through several incidents at work where sponsorships or products are dropped due to the celebrity representative or corporation involved expressing or potentially appearing to dispute the Chinese government’s claims over certain places. This is completely true to real life and a familiar part of my own experiences of growing up in a Taiwanese household where cross-strait politics were a central topic.
Overall, I enjoyed the story and found it compelling. That said, there were definitely some aspects that detracted from my enjoyment. The first was the cis/allo/heteronormativity. None of the major characters are queer, and there was only a token mention of queerness with a minor lesbian character who showed up only once (if I recall correctly). The framing of the relationships and experiences of attraction were all otherwise very cis/straight/allo. That made the story somewhat difficult to relate to as a queer and trans and aroace-spec reader because the characters were following the usual nonqueer people script of getting married and having children and settling down in their late 20s.
The second thing that bothered me was the ableism. There was some casual ableist language in the writing in places, and then there was a particular plotline (can’t disclose details because of spoilers) where ableism was really pronounced and I was super uncomfortable.
The last thing was the way language was handled. I’m not sure how much of it was the author’s stylistic choice, or pressure from the editor/publisher/industry to cater to a monolingual English-speaking audience, or what, but the way Mandarin was integrated into the story felt really heavy-handed and at points very redundant to me. There was some over-explaining of Mandarin terms. I was somewhat forgiving of that.
What really stood out to me was a scene where a bunch of foods in a list: “mustard greens jie cai sauteed with tofu skin, golden chun juan spring rolls, duck blood ya xie soup with vermicelli, white cut chicken, sticky nian gao rice cakes…” and so on. If you translate the romanized Mandarin, it reads as “mustard greens mustard greens sauteed with tofu skin, golden spring rolls spring rolls, duck blood duck blood with vermicelli, white cut chicken, sticky rice cakes rice cakes.” As a multilingual reader who speaks Mandarin, this just came off as really grating and unnecessary, and I wished the author could have just stuck to using one language throughout the whole list or having a mix of the two languages but picking one language to name each item to avoid the redundancy. Of course, this is just my opinion, other bi-/multilingual readers may not mind, and those who don’t know Mandarin/Chinese may not even notice or care. The author is herself bilingual so I don’t intend to invalidate her experiences, but that’s just how I personally reacted to it.
Content/Trigger Warnings: sexual harassment/assault, cheating, racism, misogyny, ableism, death of parents
Crystal Z. Lee is a Taiwanese American bilingual writer and a member of the Asian Authors Alliance. She has called many places home, including Taipei, New York, Shanghai, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She was formerly a public relations executive who had worked with brands in the fashion, beauty, technology, and automotive industries. Love and Other Moods is her first New Adult novel. Her debut children’s book is forthcoming in 2021.
Hi, everyone, and happy Year of the Ox! I’m pretty busy with school, but I’m still trying to do book reviews and blog tours. Today’s review is for Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, written by Angela Ahn and illustrated by Julie Kwon. I read Angela Ahn’s debut novel, Krista Kim-Bap, back in 2018, so it was nice to get a chance to review this second novel of hers. This blog tour is hosted by Hear Our Voices Book Tours and you can find out more about the other tour stops on their tour launch page.
Publisher: Penguin Random House Release Date: March 2, 2021 Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Eleven-year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. But in one summer, that all falls apart. Told in short, accessible journal entries and combining the humor of Timmy Failure with the poignant family dynamics of Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Peter Lee will win readers’ hearts.
Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L. B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.
Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L. B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once—he needs time to sketch out a plan.
If you look up the word “wholesome,” this book should be there as an example. There’s so much to love in this book, which addresses several important issues for kids while being fun and uplifting.
The most obvious thing that attracted me to the book is that it features a dino-lover! I mean, a lot of people like dinosaurs, but when I was younger, I was obsessed. Like Peter, I owned tons of dinosaur books, and while I didn’t have much of a dino figure collection, I had plenty of dino plushies to go around. Science museums were my catnip, and like Peter, I did even think about becoming a paleontologist. Peter’s obsession is arguably more intense and directed since he is actually practicing the work of paleontologist by keeping a detailed field journal, digging in a simulated excavation pit, and so on. But either way, the dinosaur love really made me feel seen.
While they didn’t resonate with my own experiences, I still loved the family dynamics of the Lees. Peter lives with his dad, mom, and younger sister, and his maternal grandparents are still a regular presence in his life. His younger sister L.B. (short for “Little Beast”) is something of a prodigy, which means Peter can have intellectual conversations with her despite their 3-year age gap (he’s in 5th grade, she’s in 2nd), but she’s also just a kid, a ball of irrepressible energy, and an annoying brat at times. Even so, Peter still loves her and feels responsible for her as an older sibling. Their back-and-forth banter was one of the highlights of the book.
Peter’s parents come off as a little strict and uptight at first glance because they’re constantly trying to get their kids to do academic enrichment activities, but they are clearly acting from a place of care, and they do encourage Peter’s passions. His grandparents, by contrast, are much more laid back and doting. Peter calls them Hammy and Haji (derived from “halmeoni” and “harabeoji,” the Korean terms for grandmother and grandfather, respectively), and he can count on them to be a voice of moderation when his parents are being overly pushy. He cherishes them greatly.
This book is something of a love letter to diaspora kids. Peter is a third generation Korean Canadian (his grandparents immigrated to Canada), so he doesn’t have quite the same experience as someone who’s second gen like me, but his family still keeps ties to their roots. He’s one of three Korean kids at his school (him, his sister, and an upperclassman named Samuel), where he feels drawn to Sam and creates a Korean solidarity bond with him. While being one of few Korean kids at his school is lonely, and Peter does experience some insecurity over not knowing Korean, racism and identity struggles aren’t the focus of the book. His Korean heritage is simply the canvas on which the events of the story unfold, informing his interactions with the people and the world around him.
The true focus of the story is two-fold: dealing with the disappointment of finding out that the reality of your dream job isn’t what you expected, and coping with powerlessness when a loved one is sick and your family is hiding it from you. Both of these themes are explored and woven together in a really lovely way, and both felt intensely relatable for me as someone who has experienced both.
Peter goes on an excavation trip and realizes that digging for hours under the sun in clouds of dust doesn’t work for him and his asthma. The coolness of paleontology becomes eclipsed by the grueling, tedious work it requires. This reminded me of my own experience with aerospace engineering, one of my two undergrad degrees. I applied for the major as a space-loving nerd, thinking it was a great match for me, but when I started taking the classes for the major, I realized I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. The feelings of failure and disillusionment that come with this realization are quite painful, and this book takes Peter and the reader through those stages of extreme emotions with compassion.
At the same time, Peter realizes his Hammy’s health is declining, and the adults are keeping secrets from him about something. He eventually discovers that Hammy is developing dementia and will likely need to move into a nursing home too far away for them to visit regularly. Unable to bear the thought of growing apart from his grandmother, Peter sets to work on a special project for Hammy that leads to an epiphany about his relationship with paleontology and the skills he cultivated through that passion.
One of the things I really loved about this book is that it didn’t treat science and art as mutually exclusive or in competition with each other. Peter draws as part of his field journal entries, and even after he decides to “break up” with paleontology, he still uses his artistic skills and even explores a creative path with them. As someone who has always loved both science and art, I thought this was a nice theme to have.
Lastly, the narrative format of this book is a huge part of what makes this book such an immersive experience. The chapters are Peter’s field journal entries with the date and the current “conditions,” which range from the literal weather to more abstract representations of Peter’s emotional state. The cute illustrations by Julie Kwon help us visualize Peter’s perspective and add personality to the pages. I can’t wait to get a physical copy of the book.
Content/Trigger Warnings: bullying, ableism, hospitalization of a family member
I’ve been experimenting with digital drawing, and it’s still pretty new to me, so excuse the roughness of the drawing. Here’s Peter with two dino friends (not drawn to scale).
About the Author:
Angela Ahn was born in Seoul, but her family immigrated to Canada before she could walk. Armed with a BA, BEd, and MLIS, she worked for several years as a teacher and a librarian, but lately has been working from home, taking care of her two children. When she can, she writes novels for kids. She’s lived most of her life in Vancouver, B.C., with brief stints working in Hong Kong and Toronto. Although she likes to blame her parents for her atrocious Korean language skills, she will admit that she was a reluctant learner. Angela’s proud to say that her children are bookworms, and that every member of her family has a stack of novels by their bed. She’s grateful to be able to write books where her children can see faces, just like theirs, on the front covers. Angela’s first book, Krista Kim-Bap, was published in 2018 and her second book, Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, will be released March 2021.
I feel like this song fits the vibe of Juliette and Roma’s tension-laden chemistry and uneasy alliance, where everything feels like it could go up in flames at the smallest spark. The music video also happens to have a heist-ish plot that fits the story of TVD. I’ve included some of the translated lyrics here (translation credit: infinity13):
When I look in your eyes, I’m a Trouble Maker When I stand next to you, I’m a Trouble Maker A bit more, more, more As I go more, more, more Now I can’t do anything for my heart
So that you can’t forget me, I stand next to you again I make your heart waver, you can’t escape I steal your lips again and go far away I’m a Trou-ou-ou-ouble Trouble Trou-Trouble Maker
As the title suggests, this song alludes to the story of Romeo and Juliet and the lyrics are written from Romeo’s point-of-view. I thought it was perfect for expressing Roma’s Roma-ntic (don’t shoot me pls) longing for Juliette and single-minded determination to fight for their forbidden love. Here are the translated lyrics for the song (translation credit: popgasa):
I don’t care if it’s poison, I will gladly take it No other temptation can be sweeter or stronger than you The dazzling you swallows all the darkness of the world And that light blinds me Any kind of darkness loses its strength in front of you I only need you
Shine on my path, whether I want it or not, the decision has been made I will put everything at risk I will protect you no matter what hardships come I can’t see anything else but you
(Rap) I push myself into broken music, in the bleakness of a tragedy A creaking prelude of love, I’m gonna lose myself That was sweet start I don’t know how to stop, my different emotions rise An illusion that I’m sure of, you and I, got the top of the emotion
Flowers wither and scatter, the moon tilts and disappears But my heart won’t ever change, I love you, I love you
Your lips embrace my sinful lips, making me drunk with your scent No other reward is stronger than this I only need you
Shine on my path, whether I want it or not, the decision has been made I will put everything at risk I will protect you no matter what hardships come I can’t see anything else but you
Look world, let me win Sun, rise and give me strength Listen destiny, don’t block me I will protect her
I’ll be the last man to fight against the world over one love I can face any kind of threat for you, I only need you
Shine on my path, whether I want it or not, the decision has been made I will put everything at risk I will protect you no matter what hardships come
I can’t see anything else but you I can’t see anything else but you I can’t see anything else but you
(Rap) You’re complicated like a maze Why do you keep pushing me away Trust me, your Romeo
This song is Juliette’s side of the story. The simmering hatred, the painful longing, it’s all there. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation credit: popgasa):
I breathe but I’m not really breathing My heart isn’t really my heart Though you won’t understand Baby I don’t wanna love you but I love you
I try to stop myself, try to comfort myself But no matter how much I comfort myself, this pain won’t heal You’ll probably never know These days that are like hell
Only one thing I need, it’s you But I can’t reach you, I can’t let you go So what do you want me to do?
Let me break down, I can’t even turn around It’s useless, hate you yeah I hate you but I love you I can’t take it, it hurts, it hurts so much, I miss you My heart breaks so I can’t do anything I Hate I Hate
I hate you but I don’t hate you I said I forgot you but I haven’t forgotten My heart doesn’t feel like my heart Baby I don’t wanna love you but I love you
This place is a desert with only doubts and no answers I’m sure you’re comfortable leaving me behind here, go I’ll probably never know Why you left me
Only one thing I need, a short answer But I can’t figure out, I can’t even ask Why did you leave me here?
Trying to put my broken heart back together But I’m getting cut from the pieces Only thing left to do is endure for a long time Please teach me how to withstand
Isn’t there a way? So I can breathe comfortably again?
The aesthetic of this music video feels perfect for TVD. Decadence and a feast ruined by calamity? Yes.The title translates as “The Blade of Counterattack,” and indeed, it’s a song about vengeance for what was stolen. It represents Juliette’s hatred for the shadowy enemies that have wreaked destruction upon her city and people. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation credit: Aka @ Robot and Lyrics):
In the fiercely burning hatred Climbing over the corpses…
I’ll give my body over to the burning, boiling feeling Hating the squirming crowd, my eyes open As we search for an answer to guide us we join hands now and run away
The flowing tears are countless The vows I reflect upon and a sword
The time for retaliation has come Now, voices, crying loud Attack the towering enemies with obstinate will and these hands I’ll twirl in the air and now strike Until I die What was stolen, beyond the line of the high wall
The memories of the wails that pierced me wander as they continue to search for a place Like the husk of thirsting affection the days that pass are a mirage
In the fiercely burning hatred I accept the cruel reality The flowing tears are countless The vows I reflect upon and a sword
5. 你是情人還是敵人 (Are You a Lover or an Enemy) – 孫耀威/依拜·維吉 (Eric Suen and Ipay Buyici)
Angst, angst, angst. The title seems pretty self-explanatory in how it relates to TVD. Here are the translated lyrics (translation by me, do not use or repost without my permission and credit):
Are you a lover or an enemy? Lovable or loathsome, it’s hard to separate Are you a lover or an enemy? Should I embrace you or resent you?
Forget it At every moment when our vows were overturned With no choice but to struggle How could I have time to dispute truth and fiction?
Are you a lover or an enemy? The more earnest I am, the more my body is covered in scars Are you a lover or an enemy? Why is it that happiness seems like a stranger?
Do you love me? Could it be that heaven and hell have no time difference? Might as well go crazy So you won’t have to feign ignorance for me anymore
Are you a lover or an enemy? Until what point will we keep loving and hating? Are you a lover or an enemy? Our hearts must shatter before it’s considered excessive
Let it go Just admit that you and I can’t give anything In the end, we are deficient Of ways to not grieve over tears
Are you a lover or an enemy? Are you heartless or my destiny? Are you an instant or eternity? Are you naive or cruel?
The Background: My original plan was to draw Juliette and/or Roma. However, when I was shopping got groceries at Walmart one day, I saw some packets of beads with color schemes that I thought were perfect for These Violent Delights, and it inspired me to make some earrings based on the characters instead.
The Process: This was my very first time ever making jewelry, so I had to buy some basic jewelry making supplies, including pliers, wire cutters, pins and earring hooks, etc. in addition to the 2 sets of assorted beads. After consulting a few tutorials on YouTube, I got to work stringing beads on the pins and opening and closing loops to attach stuff to the pins and attach the pins to the earring hooks. The results are pictured below. You can’t tell from the photos, but the loops at the bottom, from which the tassels are hanging, are extremely badly formed/ugly, but it’s my first time, so I won’t give myself too much grief over it. Considering how cheap the supplies were, they don’t look too shabby, in my opinion.
The pair on the left is for the Juliette and the Scarlet Gang while the pair on the right is for Roma and the White Flowers.
Title: These Violent Delights Author: Chloe Gong Publisher: Simon & Schuster Publication date: 17 November 2020 Age Group/Genres: Young Adult, Historical
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
(Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher as a part of my participation in the promotional blog tour in exchange for an honest review and that did not affect my evaluation of the book.)
There has been a lot of hype for These Violent Delights this year, and I’m happy to say that the book lived up to and perhaps even surpassed the hype for me.
Some people like to hate on prologues in books, but the prologue of this book hooked me from the first line. It sets the tone of the story quite well and establishes the sense of place with immersive details. You get the impression that the city will be its own character (and it is).
The story never lets you forget that the characters are in China in the early 20th century. Beyond mere aesthetic anchors, the narrative is contingent upon the geopolitics of its time and place: a Chinese city that is grappling with the encroachment of foreign European powers and a steep class divide. The push and pull between the natives and the foreigners, the Nationalists (Kuomintang) and the Communists, the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, the factory owners and the factory workers suffuse the story with tension.
Situated within this landscape are the two main characters, Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov, who are constantly negotiating their sense of belonging and loyalty to their families and to their own hearts. Both characters are morally gray and complex, making them compelling leads. They contrast a lot in their relationship with violence: Juliette often shoots first and asks questions later whereas Roma harms when he must but hates it most of the time. For those who found Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet somewhat vapid and lacking in chemistry, this story fills in the blanks and builds something substantial between the two star-crossed lovers. The events of the story take place four years after they first met, and there is a pronounced difference between their relationship as younger teens and their present one as 18-year-olds. Not only have they not seen each other in years, much of their innocence has been burned away by the violence they’ve experienced and inflicted since they met. The weight of these histories fuels the conflicting feelings they have toward each other. They oscillate between love and hate, yearning and guilt, and it’s simply *chef’s kiss*.
While Juliette and Roma dominate the story, the supporting cast is also well-developed. All have their struggles and motivations, and their relationships with one another and with Roma and Juliette enrich the story. My two favorites are Kathleen, who’s Juliette’s cousin and a trans girl, and Marshall, a queer Korean boy in the White Flowers who has an unspoken but obvious Thing going on with Roma’s cousin Benedikt. I might be biased because they’re queer, but they have my entire heart.
These Violent Delights gets very real about several issues, such as colonization, class conflict, and diaspora/immigrant experiences. Identity and power differentials play a central role in the story and shape the characters and their choices. The monster and the contagion give corporeal form to existing anxieties and bring them to the surface. While they facilitate violence, they also enables unprecedented alliances. They are not merely an external boogeyman to defeat, they are what expose the humanity of all the characters.
Reading These Violent Delights is over 400 pages, but it doesn’t drag at all. The suspense kept me turning pages, and the build-up was executed well, culminating in an incredible climax. The story provoked a lot of visceral reactions from me because it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s an immersive sensual and emotional experience. I can’t say much about it, but the ending is guaranteed to have you screaming. R.I.P. to all of us who must wait for the sequel.
Chloe Gong is a student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and international relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear when “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” is chanted into a mirror three times.
It’s finally release week for Rent a Boyfriend!!! I’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. Rent a Boyfriend was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I already interviewed Gloria about the book and her second book Our Wayward Fate on my blog earlier this year for Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so if you haven’t read that, go check it out (I also interviewed her about her debut, American Panda, in 2017 if you want to go back even further). Also, stay tuned for my favorite quotes/a bonus mini playlist (did not sign up to do one but I couldn’t help putting one together as I read) for Rent a Boyfriend in a separate post.
Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao Publisher: Simon Pulse Release Date: November 10, 2020 Genre: YA Contemporary Pages: 320 pages
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.
Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.
Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.
When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.
But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?
It just occurred to me that I never reviewed either American Panda or Our Wayward Fate on my blog (sad life), so this is my first time really gushing about Gloria’s books/writing here. American Panda captured my heart with its mix of humor and heart back in 2017 when I was lucky enough to read the ARC ahead of its early 2018 release. Gloria has a signature style that has appeared in each of her books, including Rent a Boyfriend. It’s an unapologetic celebration of and tribute to the language and culture of Taiwanese and Chinese Americans, full of tongue-in-cheek puns and allusions.
While Rent a Boyfriend has mostly been hyped as a romcom with the fake dating trope, and it definitely did make me laugh out loud multiple times, it’s also very much a sentimental coming-of-age story that explores the complicated relationship between diaspora kids and their parents and culture. Both Chloe and Drew struggle to reconcile what they want for themselves with what their parents want for them. Drew puts up a front around everyone but his family and paid the price when he decided to drop out of college and pursue art. Meanwhile, Chloe has been playing the role of the perfect daughter in front of her parents and is realizing just how suffocating and unsustainable it is. When their paths cross, they begin to push each other onto a path toward being confident in their true selves.
The romance between Chloe and Drew is a mix of playful inside jokes and deeply vulnerable heart-to-hearts. Both Chloe and Drew have deep-seated insecurities that have held them back, and their budding romance brings all of those issues to the fore in messy ways. The thrill and joy of finding someone who gets them is shadowed by the lies they’ve constructed and the secrets they’ve kept close to their hearts to protect themselves after being hurt by those they love most. These tensions and conflicts are explored throughout the book, establishing its emotional core and fueling Chloe and Drew’s character arcs.
Although the romance is central to free story, I’d argue that the biggest conflict within the story is between Chloe and her mother. Chloe desperately wants her mother to be happy but resents shrinks under the constant criticisms she receives from her. Money, appearances, and purity are everything to Chloe’s mother. Their mother-daughter relationship is poisoned by internalized misogyny. Chloe tries her best to push back against these oppressive ideals, with limited success. She later learns that there is a reason behind it all, and the story balances understanding where her mother is coming from with breaking the cycle of toxicity.
As the comp to The Farewell hints, there’s a hidden cancer diagnosis in the story. Chloe finds out her parents have been hiding her father’s cancer from her and it is a source of sadness and fear for her. She struggles to understand why they would keep something so important from her, among other things. This aspect of the story hit very close to home for me since I also experienced something similar, albeit on a milder level, when my family hid my mom’s cancer diagnosis from me for a week to keep it from affecting my mental state while preparing for a college interview. Even knowing why they did it, it still hurt.
Overall, Rent a Boyfriend was such an emotional experience. I was so invested in Chloe and Drew’s stories. I laughed and sighed and teared up at various points in the story. I think it’s my new favorite from Gloria.
Content/Trigger Warnings: misogyny, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, classism homomisia, cancer
Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths. Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at GloriaChao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram @GloriacChao.
It wasn’t hard to find quotes to include for this post, I could do a lot more than ten, but for the purpose of not overdoing it, I’m keeping it to ten. I hope to showcase the humorous, the serious, and the romantic sides to the characters and the story. These quotes are spoiler-free, so don’t worry if you haven’t read the book yet.
Note: Chloe uses the name Jing-Jing around her parents, a doubling-up of her Chinese name, Jing (晶). Drew’s fake boyfriend persona name is Andrew.
“So they named you Jing as in…” He broke off and wrote the character in the air with perfect stroke order. Quite elegantly, I might add, forming each of the three “sun” characters that comprised “Jing” like he was painting.
“Yes, that’s me. Three suns. Shiny, bright, and so successful others can’t open their eyes.”
from Chloe’s POV
She was gradually becoming more like the girl from the application, the one with oomph and humor and a sparkle hinting at the three suns’ worth of light beneath. I stared at her with a lopsided grin before catching myself and wiping it off, only to realize that, wait, I was supposedto be looking at her like that.
from Drew’s POV
Were we all pretending, putting on a better face to fool everyone around us, even our family? I guess I’d been doing that my whole life, with Jing-Jing. Did anyone else go by two names and feel like that separated who they were? Did Andrew’s other clients?
from Chloe’s POV
Worse, what if I failed? What if I shared only to learn that I sucked at this and I’d thrown away my family for nothing? I had already fought and lost; I couldn’t lose again with the one thing I had left.
from Drew’s POV
And suddenly it felt like the dam within was bursting, and I couldn’t hold everything in anymore. The desire for him to lean down toward me until our breath mingled was winning pushing out all the other thoughts that no longer felt so important. How much could it hurt the mission if we did kiss just this once? In that moment, with his glistening lips not far from mine, with the scent of sugar and holiday warmth emanating from his tall, lean body, I couldn’t think of a single reason why this could be a problem.
from Chloe’s POV
“My Asian community was a little different. The kind that brings food over when a neighbor loses their job, takes care of the kids when so-and-so’s grandma is sick–not this Hunger Games version you seem to have, where you’re all trying to murder each other with Rhodes scholarships and doctorates.”
from Drew’s POV
Long-buried emotions seeped back in, but in her arms I could tell her about it. All of it. Everything from how I was scared to break that last wooden plank on the bridge to my parents, to how I worried I wasn’t good enough, to how she had inspired me to try harder.
from Drew’s POV
“Yup,” I said with way too much enthusiasm. [My mother] didn’t notice. Or maybe she did and we were all playing our parts. Maybe Andrew was the most real out of all of us.
from Chloe’s POV
“Drew looks a little out of your league,” he said to me with a toothy grin that clashed with his tone. “How’d you bag him?”
“I strung up some Sichuan food as bait and waited a few days,” I yelled back.
from Chloe’s POV
I’d sacrificed so much for my parents’ sake, yet we were still landing in this purgatory where no one was happy. Maybe the problem was trying to please both of us, having my (moon)cake and eating it too.
Some of you may know from my occasional Twitter digressions into kpop fandom that Infinite is my favorite group, so of course I had to include one of their songs. Their title tracks tend to be on the angstier side, but this one is very upbeat and sweet, and I thought it was fitting for Drew’s romantic streak. Here are some of the lyrics (translation credit: popgasa)
I can’t escape because I’m in too deep The letters in my book are dancing as they form your name As if you’re the main character of the movie, as if you’re the moon in the sky, I keep seeing you I draw you out every day My heart will rest only when you come into my arms I’ll be your resting place that will never cool down
This song also represents Drew’s feelings but in a more somber way. It expresses his thoughts on how Chloe has inspired him to move forward in life. Here are some of the lyrics (translation credit: KookieKane13 on YouTube):
At the weight of life that is like an endless rat race At the endless homework and unsolvable problems Just like an answer, like a time of rest, Just like destiny, you come to me Making me walk through the thickly setting fog
You drag me outside of the world that exhaustively pestered me I found a reason to live and breathe
Just when things were getting so thick and I couldn’t see Just when I was getting lost, wondering where I was Just like a ray of light, like a map Like a lighthouse, you appeared to me Making me walk through the thickly setting fog
When I was getting so tired and collapsing, you found me You raise me up and make me take a step forward
This song expresses the tension between Chloe and Drew arising from Drew’s insecurity over their class differences. Aside from this one line about being “not like other girls” (sighhh), I thought the lyrics were pretty spot on.
5. 君さえいれば (Kimi Sae Ireba/If You Were Here) – DEEN
This is another sentimental love song expressing Drew’s feelings. Selected lyrics (translation credit: Kiwi Musume):
We’ve come so close That there’s only a few centimeters between us, And what started by chance becomes fate. For the sake of your carefree laugh, I get used to the 4-dimensional conversations, And, without realizing it, lock myself away.
If only you were here, I could walk the most distant of roads — I’ll take care of you all the time. The earth’s water is Nourishment for these invisible flowers… I need your love, A light that breaks through the darkness.
What if we were reborn…? I keep saying things like that — It’s my weakness. I know I’m getting cold feet, But vowing an eternal love Isn’t so simple — I just like being with you.
Is it because you know its fragility Is the very thing that makes this beautiful? We hide each other behind kisses… If tomorrow is looming on the horizon, Then the wind and the waves aren’t so bad — I’m no match for you.
Aside from presenting a gritty and edgy aesthetic in the music video, this song also talks about greed and corruption in society. I think it captures the spirit of Aza’s struggle with hunger for power and control. Here are the translated lyrics from the first chorus (credit: eeconomistt on LyricsTranslate)
Don’t Don Everything in this world is about money You that’s stuck in the middle What is your mind? You outta control (what is your mind) I beg you to look around yourself You can see the desire in one’s eyes Stop bangin’ my head (my eyes gone red)
This song is about risk and chance and being chained by darkness. It expresses Aza’s harrowing encounters in the tournament and also her broader sense of disillusionment and powerlessness. Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics from the second chorus (credit: newsonglyrics):
The wind that stroked my cheeks, Is it the mercy of God or is it the whistle of a devil? Seeing through the confusion, Like fearing for the darkness unable to awake from it.
No way, no way, you strangle me Even if I scream, no one helps me Mayday, mayday, I am suffocating Even if I shove you, even if I stand against this Oh why are you you you you
What the hell you do, I will repay back I will find you and wait until the end of the world What the hell you do, even if I die, I will repay you back Wait and see, in some time you you you you You’re gonna break down