Monthly Archives: December 2016

Review for The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury


My Summary: Zahra, the most powerful of the jinn, returns to the world of mortals after centuries of being trapped below ground. The boy who frees her from the lamp is Aladdin, an orphaned thief who’s bent on revenge for his parents. She is bound by magic to fulfill three wishes for him. Then, the King of the Jinn offers her a freedom–for a price. In the end, Zahra must choose between freedom and love.


Although this story is a retelling of Aladdin, it is so much more and so much better than the Disney movie (which was a mess of racist/orientalist stereotypes, ugh). It’s also a wonderful expansion upon and re-imagining of the original tale, in large part because its representation of women is far less two-dimensional and far more kickass, compared to the original.

I think calling it a “retelling” almost undersells the book because despite certain familiar elements and characters (Aladdin, the genie, the princess, the devious vizier, etc.), it also introduces a lot of the author’s own creations, plot-wise, and character-wise.

In this book, there are multiple antagonists, mortal and jinn, which makes for more conflict and subplots and adds to the suspense. The pacing of the story is perfect, skillfully balancing adventure, romance, and political intrigue. I never felt like the story was dragging or taking unnecessary detours. The twists and turns were exhilarating, and the ending neatly wrapped things up.

One of my absolute favorite things about The Forbidden Wish is that the main protagonist and narrator is a girl. She’s the most powerful jinni, to boot. Throughout the book, she remains the heroine of the story. Her decisions drive most of the action and conflict. She does the bulk of the asskicking and saving the day, not a boy/man.

Aladdin is a strong character, but he doesn’t outshine Zahra. Despite his audacity, craftiness, and noble streak, he’s still your typical teenage boy. Zahra, with her extra millennia of experience to give her wisdom, calls out his impulsiveness and ignorance when appropriate. It’s quite entertaining to watch.

As for the princess, her name is Caspida, not Jasmine, and she’s not a hypersexualized trophy wife character in the least (*looking at you, Disney*). She is skilled in combat and takes an active role in looking after her people, even when it requires her to sneak out and break the rules. Her female attendants are not there for decoration either; they are as formidable as she is and ready to spring into action when necessary.

Another thing I loved about this book was its celebration of female friendship. The narration, in essence, is addressed to Zahra’s one-time master and friend, a legendary queen named Roshana. Readers get a glimpse of their sisterly bond through Zahra’s reminiscences as well as a few interlude passages recounting what happened between the two of them through the perspective of Roshana’s watchmaiden and scribe. Unfortunately, Zahra carries the guilt of causing her friend’s demise. This guilt informs her interactions with Aladdin, who is her first master and friend since Roshana.

The central theme of this book is about the power of love, platonic as well as romantic. In particular, it speaks to the power of choice and sacrifice as they relate to love. The idealist in me finds empowerment and hope from it; it’s what makes this book such a satisfying read on a deeper level.

Recommendation: Highly recommended!

Review for Bitter Melon by Cara Chow


Trigger/Content Warning: mentions and descriptions of abuse

My Summary: Due to a schedule error, Frances Ching ends up in a speech class instead of the calculus class she was supposed to take. Despite knowing that her mother will disapprove, she ends up joining the competitive speech team, ditching her Princeton Review course to participate. All of a sudden, she is sneaking around behind her mother’s back to do the things she’s not allowed to do. However, she can’t keep everything a secret forever, so her mother finds out. Eventually, she must make a decision between being the obedient daughter and becoming independent.


Though at first glance this book may seem like a book about rebelling against the stereotypical Chinese “tiger mom,” it’s actually about a girl struggling under the tyranny of an abusive mother. Frances isn’t just placed under strict rules, she is constantly belittled, manipulated, isolated, starved, and, in one case, physically beaten. Her life is ruled by fear of her mother’s backlash.

For a long time, Frances does not see the abuse for what it is because her mother has told her that she owes everything to her mother, her mother has sacrificed so much for her, and everything her mother does is supposedly for her own good, even when it hurts Frances and tears her down. When Frances accomplishes something, her mother offers no praise, only criticism of her faults.When other people compliment Frances, her mother accuses them of lying or being too generous. She lies, hides things, and destroys or takes away means of escape to keep Frances under her thumb. She treats Frances as an extension of herself and a tool for her own reputation and benefit.

It’s particularly difficult for Frances to escape the abuse or get help because the book takes place in 1989, before technology like the Internet and smartphones made remote communication and access to information convenient. All she has is a single landline phone through which her mother can and does intercept calls for her.

Through her interactions with her speech class teacher and a friend/crush from her Princeton Review class, Frances begins to build herself back up from years of being beaten down. She starts to question the worldview that her mother has manipulated her into adopting and look for a way out of her cage. Through her speech competitions, she comes to understand the power of words, and how her mother has wielded words against her.

This book is not an easy read, emotionally speaking. You are made to feel every ounce of Frances’s fear, guilt, shame, and despair. Thankfully, there are positive things to balance it out: pride, joy, relief, and triumph. The story is dark, but it isn’t a tragedy. The ultimate message it projects is one of hope.

I feel like this book is very important because a lot of abuse in Asian American families flies under the radar, written off as “cultural differences.” Frances’s relationship with her mother is contrasted with that of her fellow Chinese American friend, Theresa, whose mother is not abusive. When Frances brings up the abusive behaviors to other Chinese people in her community, they are shocked and horrified. Though cultural norms may enable abuse and violence (think about how American cultural norms tend to encourage the victim-blaming of assault survivors, for example), there are no cultures where every single person/parent is abusive, and the idea that a culture is inherently oppressive is a biased judgment relying on essentialism that homogenizes people of a culture and strips of them of their individuality and agency.

Recommendation: This book was an engaging and emotionally evocative read with a message of empowerment, so I’d recommend it to anyone.

Review for Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly


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

My Summary: Apple Yengko was born in the Philippines but moved to the U.S. a few years ago. As she starts sixth grade, all she wants to do is fit in, even if it means setting aside her heritage. When she ends up being named the #3 ugliest girl in her school, she turns to music for solace. Unfortunately, her mother won’t let her get a guitar to become the next George Harrison, like she wants. However, through the help of friends and her favorite teacher, she starts to see that her differences are something to be proud of.


This book was an emotional experience for me because it brought back memories of my own elementary and middle school days. I have knowledge and wisdom I didn’t have back then, and I wish I could tell some of it to my younger self. As I was reading Blackbird Fly, I kept yelling warnings and advice at Apple knowing that she had a journey to go through before she could gain the perspective she needed.

The beginning was especially frustrating to me, not because the book was poorly written but because it was so painfully real about the racist harassment [East/Southeast] Asian kids have to deal with. It hits full force in Chapter 2:

“Chinese people eat dogs for dinner, said Jake. He glanced around. “You guys didn’t know that? It doesn’t even matter what breed. It’s illegal to even keep them as pets in China.”

Alyssa’s eyes turned wide and round. She looked at me. “Is that true?”

“Apple isn’t even Chinese,” said Gretchen.

“It doesn’t matter.” Jake crossed his arms. “It’s all Asian people, not just Chinese. They all eat dogs.”

[some paragraphs omitted]

Alyssa raised her eyebrows at me. “Apple, is this true? Do Chinese people eat dogs for dinner?”

“I’m not Chinese,” I said.

Alyssa rolled her eyes as if to say, We know, we know, but close enough.

“She may not be Chinese, but I guarantee you don’t wanna go to her house and ask her mom for hot dogs,” Jake said. He put his fingers on the corners of his eyes and pulled them to make slits. “Would you-ah like-ah Chinese-tea with-ah you-ah hot-dahg?”

First of all, f**k Jake for being a racist garbage fire. Secondly, Alyssa’s behavior is awful considering she’s supposed to be Apple’s friend. Gretchen is the only semi-decent one out of all of them.

As an East Asian person, I’ve basically gotten all of these comments at some point, minus the dog-eating one, if my memory serves me well. Being assumed to be Chinese? Check. Being told that all Asians are the same? Check. The eye-pulling thing? Check. Mocking pseudo “Asian” accent? Check.

As if the racism isn’t bad enough, these kids are also extremely misogynistic, fatphobic, homophobic, and ableist. One insults the swing choir by calling it the “gayest club in the school.” Another casually drops the r-word. Multiple boys come up with a list called the “Dog Log” where they rank the girls in the school and fill in the spots for top 10 ugliest girls. At the top of the list is Heleena Moffett, who is fat and gets the cruel nickname “Big-leena.” The boys also come up with a list of the hottest girls in the school, which is just as objectifying.

The worst thing about all of this is that Apple internalizes a lot of the toxic values being spouted by the people around her. She devalues her Asianness, her Filipinx culture, etc. and strives to assimilate into whiteness and into the It group at her school. She blames her Filipina mother instead of her peers’ racism for her social isolation. It was very disheartening to watch her self-hating thoughts and actions.

Her so-called friend Alyssa isn’t much of a help. Her idea of helping is trying to find ways for Apple to be “redeemed” and taken off the list, which is just classic victim-blaming. Instead of holding the boys accountable for their misogyny and cruelty, she’s putting the responsibility on Apple to stop being a certain way to become more acceptable to people who don’t care to see her as human in the first place. And Alyssa’s motives for “helping” Apple are extremely self-serving: she doesn’t want her reputation to be tarnished by association with Apple.

Thankfully, Apple eventually gains true allies and friends, people who don’t see her difference as a mark of inferiority and won’t use her for social gain or be a silent bystander to bigotry and bullying. Slowly, she begins to detox herself of those oppressive ideas. She stops seeing people through the lens of dehumanizing values and labels and starts seeing them as individuals with their own strengths.

Recommendation: This is a great book for those who have dealt with bullying, social isolation, or the experience of being an outsider. I highly recommend it.

Review for Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate


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

My Summary: Life at Paloma High School is much like any other high school, with petty drama, judgmental assholes, and mind-numbing schoolwork. Until it isn’t. A scandal emerges: a student and teacher had an illicit affair. At the center of the scandal are seven teenagers, each with their own secrets, whose lives are transformed as a result of this scandal.


The magic of this book for me was how I was able to relate to each of the seven characters in some way, even though they’re all so different. For Olivia, it was knowing people talk behind my back (for the opposite reason though–people found it so inconceivable that I might hook up/date a dude that they actively matchmade me with random dudes as a joke) and missing my mom (my mom passed away recently) and feeling that emptiness where she used to be. With Claire it’s the constant comparisons between myself and the people around me (I tend to surround myself with high achievers) and feeling like I’m never good enough. For Lucas, it’s being bi/pan(+non-binary) and feeling too scared to come out to most people because I don’t want to have the conversation with people about what it means, and also liking someone who doesn’t/can’t reciprocate. With Juniper, it was being perceived as perfect while hiding my pain and struggles (my mom was diagnosed with leukemia my senior year and I graduated valedictorian). For Valentine, it was the feeling of isolation and not quite believing that people see me as anything other than a freak or oddity. With Matt it’s the feeling that I’m not really as grown up or independent as I like to think so I feel uncertain. And for Kat, it was the hiding, the sleeping in, the missed meals, the anger, the addiction to something that helped me escape, i.e. the depression and how it completely destroyed my life.

There is tension, suspense, climax, etc. to make the book compelling from a plot perspective, but what really stood out to me was the characterization: how distinct and human they were and how they grew and changed throughout the course of the narrative. They came out the other end of the events with some closure and new understanding of themselves, and that was the most satisfying thing to read.

There were several other things I appreciated about the book. One is the calling out of misogynistic double standards when it comes to sexuality and the slut-shaming that women who dare to exercise their sexual agency face. Many people look down on Olivia for having one-night stands with multiple guys but some of the dudes among those same people get angry at her when she exercises her right to say no to them. It illustrates very clearly the lose-lose situation girls/women deal with when it comes to sex: if you say yes, you’re a slut; if you say no, you’re a bitch.

Another thing is the use of Spanish throughout the book. One of the main characters, Matt, is half-Mexican, and speaks Spanish with his mom. Another character, Lucas, is taking Spanish and his teacher expects him to use Spanish in the classroom and addresses him in Spanish. And all the accent marks are in the right place and the upside-down question mark is used at the beginning of a question mark and so on. But what’s truly noteworthy about the use of Spanish in this book is that there are no translations provided. That’s a big deal.

Typically, authors and editors assume that the audience for a book in the U.S. is white, monolingual English-speakers, who therefore need translations for any non-English language. Providing translations effectively centers whiteness. That said, although there are no translations, even those who don’t understand Spanish should still be able to follow what’s being said through context clues. I might be wrong though because I happen to understand Spanish myself (took six years of it and studied abroad in Spain). I was able to follow along and had to go back and check to see if there were translations because I hadn’t noticed when I first read those parts.

On a related note, one of the characters has the last name García, and his name always has the accent mark on the i. Diacritical marks are essential to languages that use them to denote stress, tone, etc., so seeing this aspect of orthography respected in publishing is nice. Especially since I’m a linguistics nerd myself.

Finally, the last thing I wanted to comment on was the definition and explanation of pansexuality and non-binary gender used in the book. While it’s awesome to have pan representation, there was problematic language. Specifically, the distinction between bi and pan is drawn at pan people being attracted to non-binary people. While there are differences between how bi- and pansexual/romantic are used and defined, it’s actually a misconception that bisexual/biromantic inherently excludes non-binary people and only refers to attraction to men and women. Although “attracted to men and women” is a common understanding/usage of bi, it’s not the only one. Bi, for a lot of people, means other things, such as a) being attracted to two or more genders (e.g. women and non-binary people but not men), b) being attracted to two types of genders in relation to one’s own gender (e.g. same gender and different gender), etc.

As for the definition of non-binary gender and gender in general, I’m referring to this passage:

“What are you talking about, other genders?”

“Well, gender’s something society made up. I don’t mean, like, biological sex–that’s a different thing.”

While this correctly points out that gender is socially constructed, the comment about biological sex reinforces biological essentialism, or the notion that sex is an objective and indisputable designation. In fact, biological sex is as much socially constructed as gender. (Recommended reading: Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex by Alice Domurat Dreger.) This is why saying a trans person is “born as x” (instead of “assigned x at birth”) is problematic.

Wait, one last thing. One of the characters can be read as asexual (and possibly neurodiverse). He never explicitly labels himself as such, but the way he describes his experiences of [non-]attraction strongly point to him being on the ace spectrum. Which is cool because I’m bi/pan but gray-ace/demi, so I get some representation in more than one way.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a book that explores the struggles and nuances of the adolescent/human experience, this is your book.

P.S. I really love the cover design and I’m glad I got the hardcover version instead of waiting for the paperback like I originally intended.

Review for Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai


My Summary: In 2001, Fadi’s family flees the Taliban and emigrates to San Francisco from Afghanistan. However, his little sister Mariam is accidentally left behind. As Fadi attempts to adjust to his new life in the U.S., he struggles with not only prejudice from peers fueled by the 9/11 attacks but also his guilt for his role in Mariam getting lost. Hope for rescuing Mariam arrives in the form of a photography contest where the grand prize is a trip to India. Despite the obstacles he faces, Fadi develops a new hobby, makes friends, and strives to win the photography contest.


Shooting Kabul is a good book in many ways. From the characters, to the handling of complex political situations, to the themes–all of these things make this book memorable.

For most Americans, especially white Americans, the Taliban and Islam are far removed from their personal experiences. What little they know is filtered through biased media and outright misinformation peddled by hatemongers and those who stand to benefit from the conflicts and wars the U.S. wages abroad. The choice of an young Afghan American refugee as a main character serves to remove that emotional distance, rendering the political personal.

For Fadi, the Taliban is not just a news item, they are something that has direct ties to and influence on his family. The Taliban are the reason they have fled Afghanistan. His family’s history with the Taliban illustrates the way the group evolved from being the heroes of Afghanistan against foreign invasion to the oppressive rulers, defying the oversimplified narrative of Taliban=evil.

By setting the story in late 2001, the author is able to explore the repercussions of 9/11 on Muslim Americans. The victims of 9/11 aren’t just those who died in the attacks, but also the people who have faced backlash due to racism and Islamophobia. As we see from Fadi’s bullies, children are impressionable and will internalize the prejudices of their environment and perpetuate it. That’s why this book is so important: because it teaches empathy.

Although Fadi faces bullies, he also makes friends and allies at school. Most notable among these are Anh, a Vietnamese American classmate who convinces him to join the photography club, and Ms. Bethune, his Black art class teacher and the sponsor for the photography club. They help him out and encourage his creativity. (POC friendships are the best.)

In various ways, the book highlights the diversity of San Francisco. From Fadi’s classmates and teacher to the urban landscape of the city, readers get the impression of the mosaic of peoples and cultures that populate Fadi’s world.

One of the things I really loved about the book was the detailed descriptions of photography. The author deftly portrays the labor and the artistry in the process of producing a photograph, from the planning of the shot to the making of a photo print. It really gives you a deeper appreciation for the art. I learned a lot about photography from reading this book.

Although Fadi faces unexpected setbacks, he ultimately gets a happy ending. The ending left me with a sense of hope, and the reassurance that sometimes when one door closes, another opens.

Recommendation: This is great book about family, friendship and perseverance. Though it’s a middle grade novel, I think anyone can read it and enjoy it.

Review for Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah


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

My Summary: Amal, an Australian-Palestinian girl living in Melbourne, is about to start her junior year, and she has decided to start wearing the hijab full-time. After making this decision, she must confront judgment and prejudice from classmates, neighbors, strangers, and more. On top of that, she’s developed a crush on a classmate. Soon, junior year becomes the year for herself to struggle with and explore her identity and figure out how to remain true to herself and her principles in the face of social pressures to conform.


This book was first published in 2005, but it’s still relevant and important, given the current political climate and rise in Islamophobic sentiment. Amal’s story stands against hatred and prejudice by centering the perspective of a Muslim hijabi, someone who is very vulnerable to vitriol and violence due to her hypervisibility.

The book is very explicit in its handling of stereotypes and Islamophobia. It directly calls out the biases and assumptions that even well-meaning people hold. Since the narrative is in first-person, readers get to experience Amal’s visceral responses to prejudice and harassment. We get to empathize with her frustration, fear, and fury.

Amal is a great character. She’s snarky and strong-willed, but she has her flaws. She doubts herself sometimes, makes poor decisions, judges people unfairly and has to confront her own biases, etc. She’s capable of being sensitive and insightful, but she’s still a teenager who has a lot to learn.

Aside from having a strong protagonist, this book features a diverse supporting cast that add to the richness of the story. One of Amal’s two closest friends at school is Japanese, having bonded with her over shared experiences of blatant racism and classism from a horrible classmate. The other friend is fat and struggling with her body image, but supported by friends who love her unconditionally. Amal also manages to build a friendship with an elderly neighbor who’s a Greek Orthodox Christian immigrant.

The supporting cast showcases the diversity within Muslims and within Arabs. One of Amal’s Muslim friends, Yasmeen, has a Pakistani father and white British mother who converted to Islam. The other, Leila, has roots in Turkey, where her mother grew up. Amal’s family attends a family friend’s wedding where the bride is Syrian and the groom is Afghani. Beyond their ethnic differences, each of these characters has a different relationship with Islam and interprets and expresses it differently.

Amal’s thoughts, actions, and interactions with others actively debunk the notion that Muslim women are all oppressed and that Islam is inherently oppressive. Her agency and choice are emphasized throughout as she fights multiple people who assume her parents forced the hijab on her. The book very clearly calls out [white] feminists “who don’t get that this is me exercising my right to choose.”

Furthermore, Amal makes the distinction between cultural/social norms and religious doctrine, which are often conflated by people who are ignorant about Islam. She also reflects on the way culture and religion change over time, and how often immigrants cling to traditions and ideals that have become obsolete in their homeland since they left. These situations and thoughts bring nuance to Muslim identity.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. However, there were certain patterns I noticed that interfered with my ability to fully embrace the book. Specifically, there were several cases of ableism and [internalized] misogyny.

Humor and sass feature prominently in Amal’s character, but a number of her quips were dismissive of people with disabilities, especially mental illness. For example, she disdains her mother’s “neat freak” tendencies (which are never explicitly labeled as OCD or OCPD but could be interpreted as such), calling her “neurotic.” She also refers to her decision to don the hijab at her snobby prep school as “psychotic.” In facing down another girl’s prejudice and meanness, she thinks that the other girl was probably dropped on her head as a child. Those are just a few examples.

Although the book tries to champion the woman-power, it doesn’t succeed completely because there are still noticeable instances of misogyny. Despite Amal’s discussion of how wearing the hijab is her choice and not something she should be judged for, she judges other girls for showing too much skin. She disdains girls as “bimbos” if they seem to care too much about their appearance and dress to get attention (by her assumption), which is hypocritical given her own tendency to spend a long time getting dressed and made up and her own insecurities about how she looks to other people. Although one character called out a white girl for making a racist statement, his comeback fell flat for me because the implied insult hinged on slut-shaming based on the girl’s perceived promiscuity.

Recommendation: Despite its flaws, I’d recommend this book for its strong character voice and nuanced representation of Muslims.

Review for Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed


My Summary: Naila tries to please her parents, who give her considerable freedom in many ways. However, she breaks one of their strict rules about dating and boys by falling for Saif. When her parents find out that she has been dating him in secret, they decide to take her to Pakistan to “reconnect” with their roots. Unfortunately, their plans for Naila also involve forcing her to marry a man she doesn’t know. Alone and desperate, Naila must find a way to escape this nightmare.


Two different people I know had arranged marriages set up for them as early as middle school and high school (Indian American and Vietnamese American, respectively), so it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a real issue for Asian Americans. Although arranged marriage span a diverse spectrum of experiences and not all arranged marriages end up terribly, this book highlights the extreme end in which there is undeniable coercion involved.

Aisha Saeed doesn’t pull the punches in portraying Naila’s struggles as a captive in her relatives’ and in-laws’ homes. The violence of coercion, the isolation, the bullying and abuse from in-laws, the feelings of helplessness–all of these are laid bare through Naila’s first-person narration. You are immersed in her world and her emotional reality, and it pulls you in.

However, despite these obstacles and limits on Naila’s freedom, she holds onto her agency. She resists, she plots and attempts to escape. She needs help, but she isn’t just a passive victim waiting to be rescued. Although multiple people tell her there is nothing she can do to change her situation, she continues to fight for her free will and control over her fate. That is what makes Written in the Stars an empowering story to me.

Another thing I appreciated about the book was the epilogue. It isn’t a fairy tale happily-ever-after type of ending; it addresses the repercussions of Naila’s traumatic experiences on her life. It reflects on the contrasts between Naila’s former expectations and the reality she faces, both the setbacks and the gains she’s had.

My only point of dissatisfaction is that I wanted more substantial and in-depth exploration of the aftermath of the climax. Healing from trauma is a long process, and being able to watch and experience that through Naila’s perspective would have been great and empowering in its own way.

Overall, I really liked this book. It tackled a very serious and underexposed issue in an informative and entertaining fashion. It humanizes people who are so often dehumanized by their environment.

Recommendation: Read this book! In our current political climate, it’s more important than ever to uplift the voices of Muslim Americans.

Review for Timekeeper by Tara Sim

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

My Summary: Danny Hart is the youngest clock mechanic of his time, in a world where clock towers not only tell time, they affect its flow and functionality. He’s also the survivor of a terrible accident involving an exploding clock tower, and his father is trapped in a town where time has Stopped due a clock tower being destroyed, so his job is more than just a way to earn money. When he is assigned to fix a broken clock tower in the town of Enfield, he expects the usual, routine repair. What he finds instead, is Colton, a cute clock spirit with more to him than meets the eye. Meanwhile, more clock tower explosions are happening, and there is suspicion of foul play. Soon, Danny realizes that the problems that are personal for him are actually tied to something far bigger.


It’s hard to find words to encapsulate how much I love this book, but I’ll make an effort to do it justice.

First of all, this novel manages to weave together so many genres and elements. It incorporates fantasy, mystery, and romance and does a wonderful job of balancing them throughout.

Fantasy is all about worldbuilding, and the great thing about fantasy is being able to play with the rules and norms of an alternate universe. Unfortunately, some authors’ imaginations stop short of changing the social norms and merely make cosmetic changes while replicating the real world’s systems and biases.

Tara Sim is not one of these authors. Her alternate Victorian England is not just a mirror of history with a small game of spot the difference. Rather, she has actively considered the implications of and evolved her England in accordance with the alternate history of her world. Not only is technology more advanced, the social landscape has been transformed as a result of those technological advancements.

Specifically, women have made gains in employment and can become mechanics, among other things. Homophobia is also much less virulent (yay). The social climate is far from utopian, as there are conservative factions and ideologies that persist in the face of these gains, creating an atmosphere in which acceptance and microaggressions coexist. This nuanced portrayal of the alternate social reality gives it a kind of realism that I rarely see in YA speculative fiction.

Aside from having an alternate history, the world of Timekeeper also has its own unique mythology that’s interspersed throughout the novel with the main narration. It doesn’t distract from the main plot. Instead, it adds another layer to the worldbuilding, explaining the origins of time as the characters experience it. I’m a major mythology nerd, so I might be a little biased, but I savored these passages.

A lot of writers who write historical/AU Victorian England whitewash it even though the reality wasn’t quite so white. Tara Sim includes racial diversity in the supporting characters, namely Brandon, who is black, and Daphne, whose father is half-Indian and is, like the author, white-passing. Moreover, they are not props; they are given their own stories and depth. Race isn’t sidestepped; for example, the author makes critical commentary on British imperialism in India through Danny’s perspective.

As for the mystery aspect, I got Sherlock Holmes vibes from Timekeeper. As in: murder and mayhem in the streets of London, and a dashing hero (Danny) out to solve the mystery. The suspense was intense, and the red herrings and twists kept me on the edge of my seat (bed?) throughout.

Now, for the romance. Danny and Colton are absolutely adorable together. Reading about their interactions made my heart flutter with joy or ache with sadness depending on the situation. That ship sailed pretty quickly for me, and if it sinks, my heart will go down with it.

Last thing: Danny has PTSD because of his accident, and I appreciate that this is not glossed over or minimized or omitted when convenient but rather incorporated into the story. I don’t have PTSD, so I can’t speak to the authenticity of the portrayal, but it at least matches the symptoms I’ve seen in my research. That aside, I definitely identified with Danny’s experience from the perspective of someone who has an anxiety disorder and has experienced panic attacks.

Recommendation: In my opinion, there is something for everyone in this book. Go read it now!


Review for Little Miss Evil by Bryce Leung and Kristy Shen


My Summary: Fiona is the daughter of infamous super-villain Manson Ng, but all she wants to do is live a normal life. However, on her thirteenth birthday, her father is kidnapped by an enemy. The ransom demanded is the NOVA, an extremely lethal nuclear weapon that could wipe out an entire city. All of a sudden, Fiona is in charge of her father’s henchmen and must launch a rescue mission. Good thing her father gave her a flamethrower to strap to her arm for her birthday present.


Asians have been typecast as villains in the U.S. for over a hundred years. The racist stereotype of the “yellow peril” has a long history. For those who don’t know, the yellow peril is the idea that Asians are cunning, ruthless, barbaric hordes who will take over and destroy white civilization. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other anti-Asian legislation in the U.S. were fueled by this xenophobic stereotype. Outside of the legal realm, the stereotype has been perpetuated in books, films, TV shows, etc. American pop culture has seen its share of yellow peril villains: Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless–the list goes on.

The refreshing thing about Little Miss Evil is that even though Manson Ng is an Asian villain, his villainy is not attributed to or associated with his Asianness. He’s just your typical bad guy who wants to build weapons, steal things, and cackle evilly. Also, he happens to love his daughter a lot and is unintentionally funny with his idiosyncrasies.

And Fiona, despite being the daughter of a villain, is the protagonist and hero of the story. Through her narration, we see her view of Manson Ng: the melodramatic but ultimately caring father. We also see both the perks and downsides to being related to a super-villain.

The plot of this book never strays from the rescue mission. It’s a fast-paced narrative featuring lots of action, suspense, and twists. Even so, it manages to squeeze in a little humor, family bonding moments, and super-villain backstory.

The bonus cherry on top is the way this story smashes certain Asian American tropes in unconventional and hilarious ways. For example, during a conversation with her father about her future, this exchange happens:

“I. Don’t Want. To. Be. A. Super. Villain! I want to have a normal career. I want to go to college and become a doctor and go to Africa to help starving children*!”

Dad turns beet-red. “A doctor? Africa?” He spits each word onto the floor, as if they are chunks of bitter melon dripped in disappointment sauce. “Why don’t you just stab a knife into my heart?”

Usually, the kid is being forced by the parent(s) to become a doctor, and they rebel against that, thus disappointing the parent(s). Here, the kid wants to become a doctor to rebel against the parent. Because the alternative is going into the family business and becoming a super-villain.

There’s also a scene where Fiona gets a 100 on a math test, but not because she’s an Asian math genius. She actually made mistakes on the test. However, her teacher didn’t mark them wrong because the super-villain parents of one of her classmates (she goes to school with two other kids with super-villains as parents) threatened the teacher into giving their daughter a good grade. The teacher gave Fiona a 100 to avoid the risk of backlash from her father. Ha.

So, there are two problematic things I noticed, relatively small but still worth addressing. The first is the asterisk from the bit I quoted above. When Fiona talks about becoming a doctor to help save starving children in Africa, it does the following: 1) homogenizes a huge and diverse continent into a monolith, 2) portrays Africa through the lens of a racist stereotype of poverty-stricken people, 3) perpetuates the Western savior narrative that leads to well-intentioned but ill-advised “voluntourism” that centers the ego of the “savior” and not the needs and agency of the people being helped.

The other thing was the portrayal of a secondary character named Ruby, who has albinism. Although she isn’t a completely one-dimensional character, the way her physical appearance is described (particularly the “blood-red eyes”) perpetuates the othering of people with albinism. Her overall meanness is also falls into the stereotype of people with albinism as “villainous, deviant, supernatural or sadistic” (quoted from

Recommendation: Not for romance fans, as there is zero romance (it’s a middle grade novel, anyway). Great for people who enjoy action, adventure, and kickass heroines!

#DiversityDecBingo TBR List

So I’m participating in a month-long event that focuses on reading diversely, and the goal is to fill one row (horizontally, vertically, diagonally) on the bingo sheet (see below) by reading one book per prompt on during the month of December. Winners will get entered in a giveaway for a free book. You can learn more here and follow the buzz on this event by looking at the #DiversityDecBingo hashtag on Twitter. Below is the Bingo Board and my list of books I’ll be reading for each prompt. I’m feeling ambitious, so I’m aiming to get a blackout, or as close as possible. I’ll link my review for each book on this post once I post it.

If you need help finding books for this challenge, check out the books in my review index and my TBR list because basically all of them fulfill one or more of the prompts.


Non-Western Cultural Fantasy

Non-binary Main Character

  • Pantomime by Laura Lam

Refugee Main Character

POC Superheroes

Chronic Pain Sufferers

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Demisexual Main Character

  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Muslim Main Character

Trans Main Character

Diverse Non-fiction

  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

POC or Interracial M/M

Mental Health Awareness

Asian Main Character (might as well be a free space for me lol)

Free Space

  • Exo by Fonda Lee

Own Voices

Non-Western (Real World) Setting

POC on Book Covers

POC with Natural Hair

Disabled Main Character

SFF w/ LGBTQIA+ Main Character

Pansexual Main Character

Indigenous Main Character

F/F Romance

Biracial Main Character


Asexual or Aromantic Main Character

  • Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore