Monthly Archives: December 2016

Giveaway+Author Spotlight: Stacey Lee

So, I counted and found that I’ve posted 30 reviews, and that was the arbitrary milestone I picked for doing a giveaway. I’m using this giveaway to promote one of my favorite authors, Stacey Lee!

Stacey Lee published her first book, Under a Painted Sky, in 2015, and her second book, Outrun the Moon, this year. Both of these are historical fiction YA novels featuring a Chinese American protagonist, a diverse cast of characters, themes of friendship and solidarity, and a touch of romance! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to see Asian Americans included in the narrative timeline of U.S. history, both factual and fictional, and Stacey Lee is totally winning at it on the fiction side.

She also has a third book, a contemporary novel, The Secret of a Heart Note, coming out on December 27th, in less than two weeks! It tells the story of a teenage aromateur who mixes perfumes that help people fall in love. If you pre-order the book, you can get a personalized perfume recipe from the author (see details here).

You can find Stacey Lee on: Twitter | Facebook | Her Website | Goodreads

Now, for the giveaway! I’m giving away a signed, paperback copy of Under a Painted Sky! I happened to stumble upon it while browsing at the SFO airport bookstore and immediately snatched it up. Since I already have a copy of the book, I’m parting with this one for the greater good.

The rules? Just enter the Rafflecopter! Open to international folks. Ends at 00:00 (12:00 AM) on December 21st, US Central Time. The only requirement to be entered is to Tweet about the giveaway. You can also earn extra entries by commenting on various blog posts of mine. Detailed instructions are on the Rafflecopter page. Good luck!

Review for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Aristotle and Dante are as different as night and day. Aristotle envies Dante’s talents, confidence, and openness. He feels inferior. He feels lonely. He feels lost. However, when they meet, the two form a bond that changes their lives beyond imagination.


Trigger/Content Warning(s): transphobia

Well, if I’d had any idea how good this book would be, I would have read it eons ago.

Where do I even begin? It’s difficult to organize my thoughts because there are so many things I want to say about this book. Because this book is so many things at once.

The most obvious one is that it’s about a relationship between two boys, but it’s so much more. It’s also about their relationships with themselves, their families, their histories, their culture, and the society at large.

Ari is such an incredibly relatable character to me. His loneliness, his uncertainty, his repressed feelings, his anger, his pessimism and yearning hope, his self-loathing–these are all familiar to me. Though it’s never explicitly labeled as such, I recognize his depression because I’ve been there, and in many ways, I’m still there.

His reflections on racial and ethnic identity are also a point of connection for me. There are many factors that intersect with race/ethnicity: class, language, immigration history, etc. The ongoing dialogue on the contrast between Ari and Dante’s backgrounds–their skin color, their parents’ education levels and careers, their fluency in Spanish–highlight the ways in which Mexican American identity is constructed and policed. Although I’m not Mexican American, as a second generation child of immigrants, I could definitely relate to the experience of feeling “not authentic enough” to truly belong to my ethnic group.

Beyond race and ethnicity, Ari’s world is shaped by the psychological dysfunction of his family. There is the intergenerational trauma from his veteran father’s unspoken past in Vietnam. There is the silence and deliberate forgetting of his older brother, who has been in prison for over a decade for reasons that Ari does not know. There is the overwhelming feeling that nobody in his family is willing to say what needs to be said.

The effects of this silence on Ari are enormous. He doesn’t know who he is because his family have erased a significant part of their family history and therefore his roots. His capacity to connect with other people outside of his family is stunted. Even as he craves intimacy, he’s averse to letting himself be vulnerable enough to establish trust and deeper bonds with other people. Because he feels that he lacks agency in many ways, he sets up rules to protect himself, but ultimately these rules reinforce his isolation and emotional distance. He doesn’t let anyone in, and he also doesn’t let anything out, which leads to involuntary emotional outbursts down the road.

That’s where Dante comes in. Dante is a foil to Ari: he knows what he wants, he does the things he wants to do, he wears his heart on his sleeve. When Ari looks at Dante, he sees the things he wants to be but can’t achieve. Ironically, even as self-assured and amiable as he is, Dante is also lonely. Their shared loneliness brings them together. And as Ari finds out, Dante has his own inner demons relating to his family.

1987-1988 is an interesting time period for a story like this. It’s nearly 30 years before marriage equality, before LGBTQ folks had much visibility in the mainstream culture. It’s a time before the Internet and instantaneous communication. And yet, it’s still as relevant as ever. Homophobia and heteronormativity are still pervasive, and young LGBTQ people still struggle to come to terms with their identities. Dante’s worries about giving his parents grandkids struck a nerve in me because I, too, felt the pressure to continue my family’s lineage before I came out to my parents.

One of the things I really liked about the book was the disavowal of toxic masculinity. Ari feels alienated from the normative masculinity that the boys at school perform and uphold. He also disparages the boys for their objectification of women. Dante stands in contrast to that kind of masculinity in various ways: he is friendly to everyone and doesn’t play the game of shoring up masculinity through acts of dominance and violence. He expresses his emotions freely and cries when he needs to, even over the death of a bird. Ari doesn’t think Dante is weak for this; he admires him for it and accepts it because that’s who Dante is. The importance of narratives that allow boys and men to be vulnerable and express sadness cannot be stressed enough, in my opinion.

Overall, this book was amazing to me. I marked so many places where I was just like “this, this so much, this is wonderful.” However, I had one thing that really stood out to me as problematic, specifically transphobic. Since I can’t discuss it without revealing an important plot point, I’m putting that part in white text so you can highlight it to read it if you’d like. The reason Ari’s brother is in jail is because he killed a trans woman who was a sex worker. Because of the time period and terminology that was used during that time, Ari describes the sex worker as a “transvestite,”but in our present-day world we’d call her a transgender woman. The issue is that Ari says that the “transvestite” was actually a “guy,” which is what motivated his brother to murder her.

Given our current social climate, in which trans women are regularly being murdered and misgendered because of the continued narrative of “trans women are just men in drag,”the violence of this act cannot be understated. Unfortunately the book does little to counter the ideological violence that resulted in this sex worker’s murder.

Recommendation: I don’t want to dismiss the good parts of this book, so I’m recommending it with the warning that there is that transphobia present, and to read at your discretion.

Review for On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: The year is 2035. A comet is hurtling toward Earth. Only some people have been chosen to leave Earth on generation ships and colonize habitable planets far away, and the rest will be left behind in shelters to wait out the catastrophe. Denise, who is autistic, has resigned herself to being one of the disposable ones. Except a chance encounter reveals that there’s one ship still on Earth. Suddenly, Denise and her family might have a chance at escape, but she has to earn her way in. With her mother addicted to drugs and her sister missing, it will be more than just a piece of cake for Denise to overcome the trials ahead of her.


As with Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, I’ve had this book on my radar for a while, but didn’t get around to reading it until now, motivated by the reading challenge. Also like my previous book, it surprised me by being so much more than what I was expecting.

Although there are many books that explore apocalyptic scenarios, few do it with the nuance that Corinne Duyvis does. Through her protagonist’s marginalized positionality, she unpacks the prejudices that shape society’s evaluation of people’s worth.

Denise is autistic, so ableism is a big factor in how people perceive her. But it’s more complex than that. She’s also biracial (her father is Surinamese, her mother is white) and not white-passing in the Netherlands. The intersectionality of her autism, Blackness, and girlhood means that her disability is often invisible or overlooked because the poster child for autism is a white boy. If she does anything that seems off, it’s dismissed as acting out rather than showing symptoms of a disability.

Her individual family members are also venues for social commentary. Her sister, Iris, is trans, and her mother is addicted to drugs.

Iris transitioned prior to the events of the book, and she is able to pass, so her transness isn’t a central issue. However, it is brought up when it’s relevant and appropriate. For example, when Denise talks about the antiblackness of people’s comments on her physical features, she remarks that Iris got that plus transphobic remarks because of her gender-nonconformity pre-transition. Denise also has to correct her mother when she mistakenly refers to Iris as her “brother.” I appreciate that the author does not deadname or otherwise misgender Iris, even when discussing pre-transition events, as this is a common blunder that cis authors make.

Their mother’s drug addiction and the way people treat them because of it illustrate how pervasive the dehumanization of addicts is in society. There is a lot of victim-blaming involved, and an assumption that drug users are ultimately disposable. It is hard for Denise to defend her mother sometimes because her mother is manipulative and exploits Denise’s autism to garner sympathy for herself. She violates her daughter’s boundaries and treads on her agency when it’s convenient. Although her character walks a fine line, I thought there was differentiation between the addiction and her mother’s toxic behavior. Even while she is sober/clean, she still treats Denise in horrible ways.

Aside from touching on the systemic biases people have, the book also sheds light on the way we value people based on our personal relationships with them. An important theme is the choices we must make when resources are limited: do we choose to follow “everyone for themselves and their own”? Is there room for compassion and empathy for strangers?

The plot of this book contains so many twists and turns that I was never entirely sure what the ending would look like. There was potential for it to go many different ways. But the ending I got was something beautiful. Not a neatly-wrapped, fairytale ending, but one brimming with hope for humanity, with life-affirming values.

Recommendation: Read this book!

Review for Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Bailey Chen has just graduated from college and is struggling to find a job despite her Ivy league degree. Her problems transform from mundane to magical when she finds out her old friend (and new crush) Zane is part of a secret society of bartenders who fight demons by night. Different cocktails give the drinker different powers, but these powers may not be enough to save Chicago from the threat that looms on the horizon.


When I found out about this book, my first reaction was “hey, that sounds cool.” It stayed in my TBR pile for a while until I finally bumped it up for the reading challenge, and I’m glad I did because it was even better than what I expected.

To start off, I think it’s worth noting that I’m someone who basically never drinks. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve voluntarily consumed alcohol, not counting a few sips of red wine with dinner during my study abroad trip in Spain. That means that this book managed to take something I had no interest in (alcohol, drinking) and make it interesting.

The concept of cocktails that double as magical potions is pretty cool. The author develops this concept well, giving it depth and background and its own structure, theory, and limitations.

Interspersed throughout the book are “excerpts” from The Devil’s Water Dictionary, which is a guide/recipe book for different mixed drinks and the powers they grant. Along with the list of ingredients and preparation instructions, there are notes about the history of each drink and its ingredients, as well as the history of the people and events related to the drink. Other people might find it distracting or a waste of space/time, but I love reading history and trivia (so many hours spent reading Wikipedia articles), so having that touch enhanced the reading experience for me.

The protagonist, Bailey Chen, is very relatable to me. I’m also fresh out of college, unemployed, and living at home feeling pressure from family to become independent. Like her, I have to correct ignorant people about my ethnicity and deal with insufferable weeaboos/Asian fetishizers.

Which brings me to my next point: this book calls out a bunch of stuff in blatant and subtle ways. Racism, sexism, classism, and ableism are highlighted in various scenes. Bailey carries implicit biases herself, but she also makes an effort to question and unlearn them. I think this process should be written about more (in a way that doesn’t reduce characters from marginalized groups to “lessons” for the privileged, of course).

Diversity is included organically in the book. We have women of color kicking ass, a trans guy as a major supporting character, interracial couples, gay characters (in fact, a gay bar is part of the setting; one of Bailey’s female acquaintances has a crush on her), and a character with a disability (Bailey’s mentor, who also happens to be gay).

One of the nice things about the way the gay and trans characters are handled is that the story isn’t about them coming out/transitioning and struggling and whatnot. At one point, Bailey’s mentor casually mentions that he has a boyfriend, and it’s not a big deal, just a fact in his life story. The trans guy, Bucket, tells Bailey he’s trans, and Bailey tells him congratulations on transitioning and then goes on to ask him about the tremens (the demons) that he mentioned (in the same breath that he said he was trans), which is the more salient issue during that scene.

Recommendation: Highly recommended to everyone.

Review for Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Princess Dennaleia has spent most of her life preparing for a future as a queen to Mynaria, married off to Prince Thandilimon for the sake of a political alliance. However, the certainty of her future is unbalanced when she arrives in Mynaria. She has magical powers relating to fire in a kingdom where magic is forbidden, and those powers are breaking out of her control. Instead of falling for Prince Thandilimon, she falls for his sister, Princess Amaranthine. When an assassination brings the threat of war with a nearby kingdom, Denna must work with Mare to figure out how to prevent unnecessary bloodshed.


I’ve been waiting for my signed+personalized copy of this book to arrive for a long time, so when it finally arrived yesterday, I jumped straight to reading it.

Of Fire and Stars is fantasy mixed with romance, political intrigue, and mystery. It’s a balancing act that Audrey Coulthurst pulls off with finesse. Each subplot contributed to the suspense in a meaningful way: the slow-burn, will-they-or-won’t-they attraction and relationship between Denna and Mare; the growing threat of war against and persecution of innocent people, including Denna herself; the desperate hunt for who committed the crime of assassination.

The narrative is told from two perspectives, Denna’s and Mare’s. It’s often considered a cliche, but here it works nicely, creating dramatic irony as the two girls misinterpret each other, find out things the other doesn’t know, and so on. Their personalities and voices are distinct, and in fact this results in them initially not getting along. But eventually, as they become better acquainted with one another, they learn to see the other person’s strengths and admire her for who she is. They also collaborate and use their respective strengths to investigate the truth of the assassination while everyone else follows their preconceived biases.

Slow-burn romances are my favorite. In fact, I suspect I actually enjoy unresolved sexual/romantic tension more than actual sex/romance. It’s super frustrating but also extremely entertaining to watch people dance around the truth of their feelings and attraction to one another. Sure, the buildup makes the climax more satisfying (I don’t mean this in the sexual way, though that is technically a valid interpretation as well), but to be honest, I like the US/RT for itself, and this book is full of it.

Romance aside, the worldbuilding is solid, each kingdom possessing its own customs and history (leading to some culture shock on Denna’s part). The alternate universe has its own religion and associated mythology, which in turn inform the existence, function, and treatment of magic. I was as curious as Denna to learn more about it. As it turns out, magic isn’t just a convenient tool that you can use at your leisure, there are limits and consequences to its use.

One of the things I particularly liked about the worldbuilding was the normalization of same-gender attraction and relationships. In comments and observations, it is shown that these attractions and relationships aren’t out of the ordinary or unacceptable. Mare is bi, and Denna is a lesbian (as far as I can tell; I think the author also said this somewhere), but their relationship is forbidden because Denna is betrothed to Mare’s brother, not because they’re both girls. One of Denna’s friends has a lover who is a woman, but the thing keeping them apart isn’t their gender, it’s their social class.

In terms of issues I had with the book, there were two things. One was that it felt like Denna and Mare were somewhat held up as special for being “not like other girls,” Mare for being athletic and not caring about her appearance, and Denna for being bookish and analytical. Only one of the noblewomen attending to Denna was portrayed as having sense and depth and an interest in more than flirting and gossip and obsequious gestures. Honestly, I’m so over the idea that women can’t be interested in multiple things at once, or that women can’t be intelligent or interesting if they flirt or like fashion. The obsequiousness and frivolity could be attributed to the women’s social status (e.g. being part of the wealthy elite means you don’t have to care that much about work or practical things; being a woman in the elite in a sexist society means your worth is dependent on your ability to secure connections and access to resources for your family), but it still had a low-key whiff of classic misogyny to it.

The other thing I noticed was two cases of subtle transphobia. The first was a line where Denna comments on naughty poems “generally filled with terrifying euphemisms for parts of the male physique.” The gendering of body parts as inherently male perpetuates biological essentialism and is the reason why transmisogyny is so rampant. Because people view certain parts and organs as essentially male, the conclusion is that trans women are actually men. This is why you get a bunch of straight dudes who are afraid that they’re gay for being attracted to trans women, and call trans women liars and “traps.” This is why there are cis lesbians who accuse trans women of being men who are using femininity as a front to “invade” women’s spaces.

The other instance was a thought Mare had about marrying a woman because “‘at least then no one would be able to question the legitimacy of it based on lack of children.’ No matter how vague my life plan was, spending half of it out of the saddle to have a baby definitely wasn’t part of it.” The unspoken assumption here is  that two women cannot have children together and that a woman and man automatically can, which is, like the first example, not accounting for the existence of women with penises, or men without them.

In short, while heteronormativity was not an issue in the book, cisnormativity was.

Recommendation: I recommend it with some reservations. It’s not perfect, but it’s an enjoyable read overall.


Review for A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Veda has a passion for dancing and is a competitive dancer of traditional Indian Bharatanatyam. When she gets into an accident that results in her right leg being amputated below the knee, she must find a way to cope with the loss and regain her dance skills.


So I already read a book by Padma Venkatraman, Climbing the Stairs, but unlike that book, A Time to Dance is written in verse rather than prose. I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with poetry. I tend to like prose better, but some poetry is just so great that it makes me wish I were any good at writing it (my high school poetry was…terrible).

A Time to Dance is told in beautifully evocative language, rich with detail and figurative language. The author’s description of movement and affect draws you into Veda’s physical and emotional experiences.

Veda is a very relatable character for me. Her mother pushes her toward engineering and science, but her true passion lies with dance. Although U.S. society values engineering, my passion is creative writing. Veda is stubborn but a bit aloof, preferring dance to socializing. I prefer reading and writing alone in my room over parties and such.

Overall, the portrayal of disability seemed pretty good to me based on my knowledge. Veda is not reduced to her disability. She also struggles with things like parental expectations, tension in friendships, fitting in among her peers, crushes, and so on.

The downsides to disability are not ignored or minimized. Veda faces ableism from people around her, from strangers rudely asking her what happened to her leg, to taunts from peers that are laced with slurs and horrible jokes, to her dance teacher believing that she will no longer be able to dance ever again. Moreover, Veda must overcome ableist views that she has internalized: that she is useless, or lesser, or incomplete because of her disability.

At the same time, there are plenty of counterexamples to balance the ableist bits: Veda’s grandmother loves her unconditionally, the bus driver who drives the route to her school welcomes her back without drawing attention to her disability, her new teachers focus on what she can do and don’t act condescending toward her, she is shown professional dancers with prosthetic limbs who serve as role models to her, she meets other people who are disabled and living their lives, and she is reminded that the god Shiva dances in everyone and everything, so there is no one right way to exist or to dance.

The one issue I noticed was a part that said:

when he says I’m “differently abled,”

not handicapped, not disabled,

[line omitted]

he makes me feel

a little less ugly.

While “differently abled” is a term used with good intentions by this character, who is Veda’s caregiver, the implication here is that being disabled is ugly and negative, thus furthering stigmatizing disability.

That said, since I’m able-bodied, my perspective and sensitivity are limited. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you read a more nuanced and thorough review of this book and its representation of disability by someone who is herself an amputee here.

Veda’s emotional journey is a spiritual journey as well. Her passion for dance is fueled by her connection with the god Hindu god Shiva, whose temple she first visited as a young girl. Following her accident, she loses faith in herself and with it, her spiritual inspiration. As she learns to cope with her disability, she also undergoes a spiritual awakening. Although I’m not religious myself, I walked away from this book with a sense of hope and faith that was uplifting because it is so powerful and moving.

Recommendation: Highly recommended!

The Diverse Books Tag

So I found this tag through Naz, who runs Read Diverse Books, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to share some of the books I’ve read and want to read. I’m doubling up and doing both a book I’ve read and a book I want to read for each category, where possible.

The Rules

  1. Credit the original creator, Read Diverse Books.
  2. The Diverse Books Tag is a bit like a scavenger hunt. I will task you to find a book that fits a specific criteria and you will have to show us a book you have read or want to read.
  3. If you can’t think of a book that fits the specific category, then I encourage you to go look for one.A quick Google search will provide you with many books that will fit the bill. (Also, Goodreads lists are your friends.) Find one you are genuinely interested in reading and move on to the next category.

Everyone can do this tag, even people who don’t own or haven’t read any books that fit the descriptions below. So there’s no excuse! The purpose of the tag is to promote the kinds of books that may not get a lot of attention in the book blogging community.

Check out the master post, where I compile the hundreds of book recommendations provided by bloggers who have done the Diverse Books Tag. Click here.

Find a book starring a lesbian character.

A Book I’ve Read:

Huntress by Malinda Lo


Set in an alternate universe that blends East Asian (mostly Chinese) and Western elements, Huntress is about two girls, Kaede and Taisin, who are sent on a quest to find the Fairy Queen to figure out what is causing the unnatural disturbances in their kingdom. It’s the prequel to Ash (a bisexual Cinderella retelling), but you don’t need to read Ash first to understand Huntress.

A Book I Want to Read:

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan


I’ve had this book on my TBR forever, and I finally bought it earlier this week. It’s a story about Leila, and Iranian American, and her crush on a new student, Saskia. She decides to take risks for the sake of Saskia that  complicate her relationships with her friends and family. It’s so hard to find books about LGBTQ POC, especially #ownvoices books, so I was happy to find out that this book exists.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist.

A Book I’ve Read:

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi


Set against the political turmoil of present-day Afghanistan, this book is a story of forbidden love between two young people from different ethnic groups and different social classes. Fatima is a Hazara girl from a farming family; Samiullah is the son of the landowners who oversee the Hazara farmers. When they fall in love, they must fight against their families, their cultures, and the Taliban in order to be together.

A Book I Want to Read:

Ticket to India by N.H. Senzai


This book was on my wishlist for a long time, and when it was finally released in paperback in November, I bought it. I’m probably waiting until after I finish my 25 books for #DiversityDecBingo to read it.

This  book  its  about a girl named Maya. She  assumes  her family  is from Pakistan,  only to find out from  her  grandmother  that her family has roots  in India.  As  she journeys across India in search of a family treasure,  she discovers  more about her hidden heritage and  the effects of  Partition  on  her people.

Find a book set in Latin America.

It was hard to find one I’ve read before for this category. This is one I really need to work on for my diverse reading quest. But anyway, here are the books!

A Book I’ve Read:

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende


Most people know Isabel Allende through her literary fiction, but I was first introduced to her through her fantasy YA trilogy, which starts with City in the Beasts. It takes place in the Amazon rain forest and is about the adventures of Alex Cold and Nadia Santos during Alex’s grandmother’s journalistic trip to document the existence of a fabled creature called The Beast.

It’s been years and years since I’ve read this book, so I can’t vouch for the representation of indigenous people in the book. Also, I might consider re-reading it in the original Spanish to practice my rusty Spanish literacy skills.

A Book I Want to Read:

Uprooting Community: Japanese Mexicans, World War II, and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by Selfa A.  Chew


This is a nonfiction  book,  an academic  one,  actually.  My  friend who  is  third generation Chinese-Mexican  American  gave it to me as a gift because their mother, who’s a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, wrote it, and they know I’m an ethnic studies nerd. A lot of people don’t realize that  Asian  Latinx people  exist.  They do,  and this book explores the devastating impact of  anti-Japanese  sentiment  on  Japanese Mexicans  during World  War II.

Find a book about a person with a disability.

This is a category that I’ve read few books from, unfortunately. I’m trying to remedy that.

A  Book  I’ve  Read:

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman


Just read  this  yesterday,  and  I’ll be reviewing  it shortly.  It’s a novel-in-verse  that tells the story of Veda,  an  Indian girl whose passion  is for dancing  the traditional Bharatanatyam.  After she  gets in an  accident  that results in her  right leg being amputated  below the  knee,  she must find a way  to cope  and relearn the skills  that once came  easily to her.

A  Book I  Want  to  Read:

Challenger  Deep  by Neal  Shusterman

Challenger Deep.jpg

I’ve read a lot of Neal Shusterman’s work in the past, so when I found out that he wrote a book about mental illness based on his son’s experience with schizophrenia, I put it on my TBR. The book chronicles the story of Caden Bosch, who is in high school but spends a large amount of his time immersed in a world of his mind’s fabrication. It’s illustrated by Brendan Shusterman, Neal Shusterman’s son, which adds an additional visual element to the narrative.

Find a Science-Fiction or Fantasy book with a POC protagonist.

A  Book  I’ve  Read:

Silver  Phoenix  by Cindy Pon


This  was one of the first #ownvoices  Asian fantasy YA  novels I’ve read. It is set in an alternate universe inspired by historical China. I wrote a review for it here.

A  Book I  Want  to  Read:

The  Grace  of  Kings by  Ken Liu


I’ve had  this on  my TBR  for a while.  It’s probably going to be my first foray  into  adult speculative  fiction.  It’s the first book in a  fantasy  epic  that  supposedly reads  like an wuxia novel. Having grown up on wuxia dramas, this is totally my type of story.

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa.

Honestly, I cannot remember reading any books set in Africa besides required reading for school (Heart of Darkness and Cry, the Beloved Country) or books about Egypt written by white people (e.g. the Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr), so it’s high time that I start filling in that gap. Here are two book I’d like to read.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


I’ve read Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, so I know her writing/speech is very eloquent, and I’ve been meaning to read her other works, especially Americanah and this book. It is a historical fiction novel that focuses on the personal struggles and political turmoil of eastern Nigeria in the 60s.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor


I actually own several books by Nnedi Okorafor, but my TBR list is so long that I’ve never really gotten around to reading them yet, though I’m about to break that by reading Akata Witch for #DiversityDecBingo. Who Fears Death is about the spiritual journey of a young woman in post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa and an exploration of gender and oppression.

Find a book written by an Indigenous or Native author.

This is also a category that I have little to no experience with. I’m putting down three books I’d like to read.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


Given how well-known this book is, I feel obligated to read it. It focuses on a boy named Junior who moves to an all-white school from the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith


I’m a sucker for animal-related and shape-shifter stories. The main character, Clyde, is a were-possum, and other characters are also were-somethings (were-cat, were-armadillo, etc.). Super cool concept, right? Also, the story takes place in Austin, Texas, the city where I spent the last five years of my life, so reading a book that takes place there will be fun. This book is the first in a trilogy, so I expect to read all three eventually.

Voices from the Mountain: Taiwanese Aboriginal Literature by  Hulusman Vava (Author), Auvini Kadresengan (Author), Badai (Author), and Prof. Shu-hwa Shirley Wu (Translator)


So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m Taiwanese. I’m really interested in the politics and history of Taiwan. Unfortunately, Taiwan’s indigenous population is marginalized in Taiwanese society much like Native Americans are in the U.S. As a non-indigenous Taiwanese, I feel that it’s very important to listen to and uplift the voices of Taiwan’s indigenous people. This collection of short stories seems like a good way to increase my awareness of indigenous cultures and issues.

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.).

A Book I’ve Read:

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman


This book is a historical fiction novel set in India during World War II, when India was still under British rule. The main character, Vidya, is a teenage girl with ambitions to go to college. However, she’s forced to move into her grandfather’s house, where they are conservative and segregate the women’s and men’s quarters. Vidya breaks the rules by going to the second-floor library, where she meets Raman, who treats her as an equal and fosters her intellectual growth. However, her life becomes complicated when her brother makes a decision regarding the ongoing war. It’s a touching book about self discovery, friendship, romance, family, and politics.

A Book I Want to Read:

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.jpg

This one’s a middle grade novel. It features eleven-year-old Dini’s move to India from the U.S. Dini loves Bollywood, but her family isn’t moving to Bombay, they’re moving to an obscure place, Swapnagiri. However, it turns out that this town is home to interesting things, including, it seems, Dini’s favorite Bollywood star.

Aside from liking middle grade fiction a lot in general, I was curious about this book because it has a character who likes Bollywood. My knowledge of Bollywood is pretty small: I know Shah Rukh Khan is a Thing, and I’ve watched clips of/analyzed some Bollywood movies featuring Indian American characters for my Asian American Media Cultures class, and that’s about it. So I think it would be fun to learn a thing or two about Bollywood through a fictional book.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist.

A Book I’ve Read:

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung


Although the main character, Vincent Wu, is biracial, white and Asian (his ethnicity is never explicitly mentioned in the book, but Wu is a Chinese and Korean last name, though the Korean version is typically spelled Woo), the book isn’t about his race or ethnicity. It’s a superhero story with a genderbending twist. Vincent is one of Captain Stupendous’s biggest fans. When Captain Stupendous is injured in a fight involving professor Mayhem, he ends up collaborating with his crush, Polly Winnicott-Lee (who is mixed white and Korean) to help save his city.

A Book I Want to Read:

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton


This book caught my eye because it features a biracial girl who is mixed Black and Japanese. I have only read one other book that I can think of with a protagonist who’s mixed Black and Asian, and it’s Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything. The vast majority of mixed Asian characters are mixed with white, and I wish there was more representation of those who are mixed with Latinx or Black or Native heritage. When I read the synopsis of Full Cicada Moon, I found out that it’s a historical fiction novel-in-verse set during the age of the Space Race, and the main character, Mimi, is an aspiring astronaut. I was a space nerd as a kid (and majored in aerospace engineering), so this felt like the perfect story for me.

Find a book starring a transgender character or about transgender issues.

A Book I’ve Read:

For Today I am a Boy by Kim Fu


This is the first and only book I’ve read with an Asian trans character as the protagonist. The main character, Peter, is a Chinese Canadian trans girl. The book focuses on her journey to grow into herself. I first read it a while ago, and I’ve forgotten a lot of the details, so I’d like to reread it to do a thorough review of its trans representation. The author is a cis Chinese Canadian woman.

A Book I Want to Read:

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin


I need more books with genderfluid representation. This is one of the few I can find. Riley’s gender fluctuates between boy and girl, but they’re not out yet, especially because their father is running for re-election in conservative Orange County. Riley starts an anonymous blog about their life as a gender fluid teenager to vent, but the blog goes viral, and they face the threat of being outed.

Congratulations on making it to the end of this post! I’m tagging everyone who read this. If you’ve already done the tag, feel free to drop a link to your post in the comments. Otherwise, go do this tag, and come back and share your link. 🙂

Review for The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Nix has spent her entire life aboard The Temptation, a ship that can travel through time and space, to real and fictional locations like, as long as there is a map for it. Her father captains this ship, and he is obsessed with finding a map for 1868 Honolulu, so he can reunite with Nix’s mother before she died. This quest takes them through danger and adventure, and if it is successful, it could potentially erase Nix from existence.


Honestly, I can’t believe this book didn’t appear on my radar earlier than it did. A biracial Chinese protagonist, a MOC for the love interest, historical Hawaii, pirates, and time travel? It’s a book to throw my money at.

To start off, I really loved the worldbuilding. While Nix travels to several places in her journey, the bulk of the action takes place in 1884 in Honolulu. The author makes Honolulu come to life with her keen eye for details. I could imagine myself on the streets of Honolulu as Nix makes her way around.

As befitting a girl who grew up on a ship, Nix is an excellent navigator. She’s also smart, curious, well-read, and possesses the wanderlust and adventurous spirit that drives her father in his endless quests across space and time. Although she loves her father dearly, she also yearns for independence and freedom and actively seeks a way to attain them. It’s something I can definitely relate to as a recent college grad who’s stuck living at home with my dad for the time being.

The supporting characters are a diverse bunch. The crew of The Temptation includes Nix’s love interest, Kashmir, who is Persian; Bee, a North African woman (of the Na’ath people in Sudan) who was once married to a woman; and Rotgut, who’s Chinese. They make up a family of sorts, coming together despite their vastly different backgrounds.

Kashmir’s character won me over very quickly. I think I have a thing for thieves (see: George Cooper from Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, Han Alister from the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, and Eugenides from Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series). He’s clever, charming, multilingual, quick on his feet and with his hands, and playful with words. He cares for Nix and respects her boundaries. He keeps her grounded with his optimism and carpe diem outlook. In short, he’s a cinnamon roll.

When it comes to plot, the book keeps you on your toes. You never know where and when the crew might travel to next; each new place/time has its own excitement and danger(s). There are twists and revelations aplenty. And the mind-bending implications of time travel are explored, not sidestepped. Aside from adding adventure and uncertainty, the time-traveling element also raises ethical questions, such as: if we can travel backward in time, should we change history with the intention of making a positive outcome? Nix grapples with this conundrum throughout her time in Honolulu, for she knows that the Kingdom of Hawai’i will fall to American imperialism, and her father’s quest may just influence that outcome.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. I sped through it faster than I expected. However, there was one thing that bothered me, and it was the use of Chinese as it relates to historical accuracy. Nix speaking Mandarin isn’t a big deal to me; her father was born in the 20th century, and she’s visited the present day and more recent history. However, Auntie Joss’s (a secondary character) use of Mandarin was anachronistic.

First of all, given that her character was originally from the Qin dynasty, she would not have spoken modern-day Chinese. The Chinese spoken during that era is a distant predecessor to standard Mandarin and differs greatly in several ways. One is that standard Mandarin has palatalized consonants (j/q/x in pinyin) that didn’t exist in older variants of Chinese. Another is the loss of most syllable-final consonants (p, t, m, k, etc.), which are preserved in languages belonging to other Chinese language branches (including Hokkien, which is a language that I speak in addition to Mandarin).

Secondly, the Chinese immigrants to Hawai’i during the 1800s were mostly from Guangdong, so the Chinese community there wouldn’t have spoken Mandarin, which is based on the Beijing dialect and didn’t become standardized and instituted as the national language of China until the 20th Century. They would have spoken Cantonese, or for a smaller minority, Hakka. Joss wouldn’t have been able to understand the Chinese community in Honolulu, or vice-versa, upon her arrival, any more than someone who spoke Old English would be able to understand English-speakers in the present day.

When Auntie Joss talks to Nix about her name, she tells her that Nix backwards is “xin,” which means happiness (I’m assuming she’s referring to this character: 欣). However, “xin” is a spelling based on the Hanyu Pinyin Romanization system, which didn’t exist prior to the 1950s. Older systems of Romanization usually used “sh” (or in the case of the Wade-Giles system, “hs”) to indicate the consonant sound denoted by “x” in the Pinyin system (the fancy linguistics name for it is the voiceless alveolo-palatal sibilant fricative).

Last, but not least, the number homophone part on page 126 had an error as well. The word for five is “wu” (third tone) and [one of the] word[s] for “not/no” is “wu” (second tone), but the word for “I/me” in Mandarin is “wo” (third tone) not “wu.” Different vowel sound.

These details are probably not a big deal to your typical reader, but they stood out to me as a Chinese-speaker and linguistics nerd. I’m not anti-rec’ing the book based on that, and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel The Ship Beyond Time. I merely wanted to address the issues I noticed.

Recommendation: Read it! Just keep in mind it’s not completely historically accurate in its use of Chinese.

P.S. I liked the part where Nix calls Rudyard Kipling a racist because that is the Truth.

Review for Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park


My Summary: Julia Song forms a team with her best friend Patrick with the goal of winning the state fair. Although she’s hoping to do something American for their project, Patrick convinces her to follow her mother’s idea of raising silkworms like her family did in Korea. The journey to complete their project presents unexpected obstacles and discoveries.


This book is an oldie but goodie. I first read it years ago, sometime around 2006 or 2007, because my younger sister had borrowed it from the library. It’s stuck with me because it was one of the first books featuring an Asian American protagonist that I’d read. Last year, I bought it and reread it.

To start off, let me just say that Julia has a very real voice. The narration is written in first-person, and I really felt like she was sitting there talking to me. Her personality showed clearly.

As you can probably guess from the summary, this books involves Julia digging into her Korean heritage a little. Although she’s not completely out of touch with her Korean background, nor is she actively wishing to be white, she’s still internalized certain ideas about what qualifies as “all-American.” She also lives in a town where her family is the only Korean family, so their differences stand out. This is why she’s initially turned off to the idea of the silkworm project, because she’s worried about being othered by her peers for doing a project that’s “weird” and Asian.

Over the course of the project, Julia learns a lot and takes us along for the learning, showing us the fascinating details of the laborious process of silkworm farming. Gradually, she starts to embrace the project and enjoy it, against her prior biases, and realizes that her Korean American identity is part of what makes her interesting.

Aside from this intrapersonal conflict, there is also an interpersonal conflict subplot regarding intra-POC tensions, specifically between Korean and Black people. Julia realizes her mother harbors antiblack biases through the way she talks about her Black teacher, Mrs. Roberts, and interacts with their Black neighbor, Mr. Dixon, who offers them access to his mulberry tree to feed the silkworms.

What results is a thoughtful exploration of implicit biases and how they affect interracial interactions. In Julia’s case, her mother’s uneasiness around Black people is given historical context; because Black soldiers fought in the Korean War, that was likely her mother’s first exposure to Black people, and it likely left a negative impression on her. Julia’s reflection on her own experiences with facing and perpetrating racial prejudice lead her to understand how even people with good intentions can be complicit in racism.

Aside from touching on race, this book also focuses on family and friendship and the conflicts that arise in those relationships. While some of the conflicts are resolved, some linger. It may not be the most satisfying end to some because of the unanswered questions, but the fact of matter is that some conflicts are ongoing processes. This is especially true when it comes to complex, systemic issues like race relations. Therefore, the somewhat open ending felt realistic to me.

The last thing I want to comment on is the “conversations” between Julia and Ms. Park in between each chapter. Not only did they contribute to developing Julia’s character voice and personality, they also provided a fun and informative window into the behind-the-scenes work of writing a book. They’re also potential jumping points for starting conversations about the themes of the book.

Recommendation: This book is kind of a classic, so go read it if you haven’t!

Review for Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee


Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Jessica Tran was born into a family of larger-than-life people: her parents are Andover’s local superheroes, her older sister is also a superhero, and her younger brother is a science prodigy. Having lost hope for any powers of her own to manifest, she applies for a paid internship, thinking it will be drudge work. Except it turns out her employers are the town’s supervillains, and her crush Abby also works there. Her internship soon brings more surprises, including a discovery that will change her understanding of everything she knows about her world.


The moment I found out about this book, I knew I had to get it. The title grabbed my attention because it reminded me of the #NotYourSidekick hashtag on Twitter a while back, which drew attention to the absence of Asians in U.S. media as anything other than side characters. Finding a mainstream American film or show featuring Asians as the central characters is like looking for a needle in a haystack. This past year has shown some improvement, given the airing of Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken, but Hollywood’s erasure and exclusion of Asians is still a barrier to overcome.

Anyway, the concept of this book was everything I needed: Asian American superheroes, bisexual main character, F/F romance, and so on. And C.B. Lee delivers.

The fact that Jess ends up working for a villain was already enough of a twist on its own (not a surprise one since it was advertised clearly in the description, but still), but this book threw in several more twists that I was not at all prepared for. Between the superhero-supervillain arc and the good-god-will-they-just-date/kiss-already romance arc, the suspense kept the story moving.

Exciting plot aside, this book features a cast of well-developed, diverse characters.

Jess is second generation Vietnamese and Chinese. Her parents were refugees from a conflict in Asia after World War III who gained employment from the North American Collective’s government as C-class superheroes in the (NAC=U.S., Canada, Mexico). Although the story takes place in the Twenty-Second Century, Jess’s experience as a second generation Asian are familiar to me: cursing in Vietnamese, going to Chinese school on the weekends, internalizing and perpetuating xenophobic values and then realizing how hurtful the whole “fob” thing is, feeling like you don’t know nearly enough of your heritage languages, etc. Speaking of languages, the Vietnamese and Chinese bits that appeared in the book had the tone/diacritical markings on them (except for one place, not sure if that was an error or not), so I was happy about that.

The racial diversity of this novel extends beyond Jess’s family. There is an established Asian community within Andover, there are other Asian students at her school that she was once friends with, and one of her teachers is Asian. Jess’s two best friends are not Asian, but they are POC. Their races/ethnicities are never explicitly stated, but I was able to infer that Emma is Latina (most likely of Mexican heritage), and Bells is a Louisiana Creole of Color. Their race informs their characters but doesn’t constrain them.

Now, let me talk about the LGBTQ representation in this book. Aside from our bisexual protagonist and her female love interest, we also have a trans boy (Bells) and a minor character, Darryl, who is the president of the Rainbow Allies, the LGBTQ student organization at Jess’s school. In a publishing industry where LGBTQ characters are often the single token non-cishet person in a sea of cishet characters, this book is a welcome change.

One of the awesome things about the way the LGBTQ characters are handled is that the story isn’t focused on their coming out journey. Jess’s [accidental] coming out is referenced for one paragraph, having happened before the events of the book began. Bells began his transition before the events of the book as well. Moreover, his transness isn’t a spectacle used for shock value; it’s casually referenced and revealed when Jess asks him if he’s worn his binder for too long.

Aside from this, there’s also dialogue surrounding pronouns. Jess meets the mysterious M, who is dressed in a mecha-suit, and asks what M’s pronouns are. She also corrects Abby when she uses they pronouns instead of he pronouns for Bells. (If y’all want to be good allies to trans folks, normalize the act of stating your pronouns and asking people for theirs when you are introduced.)

Another nice touch was the way the Rainbow Alliance was described as a clique of gay guys who were friends with each other and socialized more than anything else. Those of us who have experience in LGBTQ circles and communities know that many spaces that are designated LGBTQ are actually mostly about the G while leaving everyone else on the margins. I remember reading about an author panel at a conference that happened recently (last year or this year) that featured only gay [white] men. The depiction of the Rainbow Allies was super relatable for this reason.

Moreover, I understood Jess’s frustration with how depoliticized the organization was. My university has a bunch of Asian American student organizations, and they’re mostly there for socializing; the ones that do service work rarely do targeted service for Asian American communities or causes, just general service work.

The book manages to make commentary on a number of other issues in an organic fashion. For example, it points out the rampant sexism of in our 20th and 21st Century media. At one point, it’s mentioned that Jess has test anxiety, in a passage that acts as a subtle critique of standardized tests and curriculum.

Between all of these things, big and small, Not Your Sidekick is an amazing book, and I can’t wait for the sequel, which is scheduled for release in 2017! (It’s called Not Your Villain and focuses on Bells!)

Recommendation: Read this book and share it with your friends!

P.S. I love the cover art and chapter heading illustrations. They capture the essence of the story so well.