All posts by The Shenners

[Blog Tour] Book Playlist for The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

It’s Part 2 of my tour stop for The Ones We’re Meant to Find. As usual, you may want to read my review before reading this to find all the relevant information about the book.

You can listen to the whole playlist on YouTube or click the individual hyperlinks below.

1. Bring Me to Life – Evanescence

This song evokes the emptiness and fear that Cee feels.

2. Divin’ – Kim Sunggyu

This song represents Hero’s feelings. Here are some of the lyrics (translated by Dark Space):

I’m swimming somewhere
I can’t see the end of it
I don’t know your invisible thoughts
I’m in the circle you drew

I’m breathless to the tip of my chin
Why are you staring at me?
Don’t wait, just save me now
Now give me your hand

I’m floundering in your eyes, in the sea of you
Divin’, divin’
I’m struggling, but even if I try to get out of it, it’s getting deeper and deeper
Divin’, divin’, divin’

Your eyes are fluttering and tense
I guess I was the only one who felt it
I don’t know, I don’t know how you feel
And lost a place to go surfin’

I knew it from the start
That I can’t avoid you
Don’t wait, just save me
Now come to my side

3. 月牙灣 (Crescent Bay) – F.I.R

I feel like if I explain it might be kind of spoilery, so just enjoy this one if you haven’t read the book. Here are the lyrics from the chorus (translated by me):

Whose heart is it that’s forlornly left behind?
Is he doing well? How I want to love him
Grasping the tears of forever, a solidified sentence
Perhaps they may evaporate

Whose love is it, that’s stronger than teardrops,
Softly calling out? Just let me dissolve
Every drop of rain evolves into my wings
Let me chase after the person I love

4. 姊妹2016 平行宇宙版 (Sisters 2016 Parallel Universe Version) – 張惠妹 (A-Mei)

Anyone who recognizes this song knows that the original version is ancient (from the 90s). I thought this version was better suited to the mood of TOWMTF. The lyrics are the same though. It’s a song about sisterhood. Here’s the chorus (translated by me):

You’re my sister*, you’re my baby**
No matter how far apart we’re separated
You’re my sister, you’re my baby
Cherish this feeling

Translation Notes:

*”Sister” here refers to platonic bonds between girls that’s ride or die rather than actual kin, but I still felt it was fitting for Kasey and Celia.
**The use of “baby” here isn’t quite the same as it is in English but suffice to say it’s being used as a term of endearment.

5. The Power of One – Donna Summer

I’m a nerd who listens to the Pokémon movie soundtracks, yes. This song felt representative of Kasey and her struggles with feeling responsible for saving humanity from climate catastrophe and how it takes cooperation from everyone to save the world.

[Blog Tour] Review for The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Hi again! Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Joan He’s The Ones We’re Meant to Find, hosted by Paola. If you’re on Book Twitter you’ve probably seen the gorgeous cover for this book floating around, and now it’s time to probe beneath the surface (puns intended).

Book Information:

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: May 4th, 2021
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction/Dystopian

Synopsis:

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Studio Ghibli.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

Review:

Reading The Ones We’re Meant to Find felt like putting together a 3-D crystal puzzle without knowing what the completed puzzle is supposed to be or look like. Even when I managed to get adjacent pieces of the mystery together, I still wasn’t sure what I was looking at until about 50 percent of the way through the story, where suddenly the pieces are all coming together.

You have two storylines told by two narrators, Cee/Celia and Kasey, and there’s an obvious connection between the two threads, but there are also many mysteries and gaps that make it hard to figure out how exactly they connect at first.

Kasey’s character is a tech wiz and part of a political committee responsible for managing the climate crisis, making her the perfect empirically-driven narrator to explore the physical and social architecture of her world, where many people live in soaring eco-cities encasing them in a protective bubble against the destructive forces of a Nature out of equilibrium. Cee’s perspective, by contrast, is more poetic, the artist to Kasey’s scientist. She relies more on passion and impulsive emotion to drive herself. Her life is one of physical isolation from other people as she is stranded on an island without her memories to guide her. Nature is what surrounds her, inescapable, powerful, and as unsettling as it is magnetic.

Between Celia and Kasey, I definitely saw more of myself in Kasey, being introverted, awkward, and having a rough time dealing with other people even while strongly committed to making the world better for everyone. But both sisters have secrets and insecurities and flaws. The story explores their sense of loneliness and the critical choices they make when the stakes become impossibly high. Even though they seem like polar opposites and envy each other’s strengths, they share an unabiding love for each other at their core that keeps them linked together.

The futuristic worldbuilding for this story is incredibly textured and detailed. It’s obvious the author put a lot of thought into the scientific and political implications of survival in a precarious society approaching environmental apocalypse. Beyond its aesthetic value, it also serves as a vehicle for the story’s meditation on humanity, both individual and collective. Even as the story probes the darkness and selfishness of humankind and the temptation of a eco-fascist mentality, it also offers hope and altruism and belief in human goodness to balance things out. It doesn’t provide a neat resolution per se, but it offers some catharsis and space to believe, and that’s the beauty of it.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-a-Million | Bookshop.org | Booktopia | IndieBound | Indigo | Powells | Waterstones | Signed and Personalized Copies

About the Author:

Joan He was born and raised in Philadelphia but still will, on occasion, lose her way. At a young age, she received classical instruction in oil painting before discovering that storytelling was her favorite form of expression. She studied Psychology and East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Pennsylvania and currently writes from a desk overlooking the Delaware River. Descendant of the Crane is her debut young adult fantasy. Her next novel, The Ones We’re Meant to Find, will be forthcoming from Macmillan on May 4th, 2021. 

[Blog Tour] Book Playlist for The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

If you missed my review for the book you can read that first. This post is dedicated to the playlist I made for the book.

You can listen to the playlist on YouTube or click the individual hyperlinks for each song below.

1. Scream – Dreamcatcher

Scream is an atmospheric and creepy song that fits the vibe of the book. A lot of the lyrics match up with aspects of the book. Here are some selected lines (translation from Genius): 

My covered eyes are stained with blood
Tell me why, I don’t lie

A cold wind blows, I feel their eyes on me
All pain flowing through my veins

My tied up hands are getting numb
Everyone is throwing rocks at me
But I can’t escape

Please, I don’t want to scream
(Devil eyes come, open my eyes, open my eyes)
Please, I don’t want to scream
(Scream, scream, scream, scream)
Spreading in the darkness, scream

Tricks behind the mask, a ridiculous freak
A hatred that only grows is born and aimed at random targets
I swallow up the burning thirst, but hypocrisy claims that it’s all my fault
At the end of the cliff lays the end
Such choice will have only regrets remaining

Words that cut like a sharp sword
They dig deep into the scars
But the breath doesn’t end

After everyone leaves, I open my eyes again
All traces are gone, they can’t believe me
Forget everything you saw
Pretend that nothing actually happened
Like that, one by one, everyone goes crazy

2. Going Crazy – Song Jieun ft. Bang Yongguk

The lyrics are technically about romantic love, but I felt like in terms of tone, it fit the story well. It’s a song about a dark and twisted longing that turns controlling and suffocating. Here’s some of the translated lyrics (translated by me):

It’s not love
This isn’t love
It’s just your obsession
Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing
It’s frightening, the you that watches me

3. Unbreakable – B.A.P

As the title suggests, Unbreakable is a song about not giving up or caving under pressure. I thought it was a great song for Hwani and her dogged determination to solve the mystery. Here’s the translated chorus (translation by Jane Doe on LyricsTranslation):

I won’t ever break
I won’t ever fall down
Even if the storm tries to swallow me
I’m unbreakable
Even if I die, I won’t break
Even if I die, I won’t give up
Even if my wings are trampled in the darkness
You know? I’m unbreakable

4. Sorry (Dear.Daddy) – f(x)

This song is a melancholy song about the distance between father and daughter and the attempt to mend the rift between them that I thought was fitting for Hwani and Maewol and their father. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation from Kimchi Color Coded lyrics, credited to kpopviral):

You can still hate me for your sorrowful feelings
There’s no need for any expressions, to me you’ll be here forever

Even if you don’t say everyone knows, both your eyes are immersed with tears
Sorry, so sorry, this is my heart
You know the day I’ve opened up my heart I’ll do better
Sorry (sorry) I’m sorry (sorry) I can’t say anything other than this, yeah

I can’t do anything (other than this) I can’t imagine (a world without you)
Although I’m lacking and deficient, I love you

5. – 徐嘉良 (倩女幽魂)

Oh, look, a song without lyrics. This is a cello piece from the soundtrack for the 2003 cdrama Eternity: A Chinese Ghost Story. The title means “Tragedy” or “Mourning” and the song feels like an appropriate tribute to the victims of violence within the story.

[Blog Tour] Review for The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Hello, again. I somehow managed to juggle my schoolwork, freelance commissions, and blogging better than I thought. Today’s blog content is for the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices for The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur. If you haven’t read June’s debut novel, The Silence of Bones, I highly recommend checking that out as well since I adored it.


Book Information:

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan Publishing Group)
Release Date: April 20th, 2021
Genre: YA Historical Mystery

Synopsis:

After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Review:

After reading The Silence of Bones, I was ready to be blown away by this sophomore novel. But I wasn’t ready for just how great it would be.

Even though this book was almost 400 pages, it certainly didn’t feel like it. The nail-biting level of suspense kept me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I read it in bed). There were many twists and turns and red herrings that kept me guessing until the end.

Aside from being suspenseful, the story was intensely creepy. A sense of danger pervades the narrative, lurking behind you, unseen yet palpable. The atmospheric writing had me deep in the dark forest with Hwani and Maewol, terrified that the masked man with a sword would come after me next. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to read the book at night. 😱

Beyond its appeal as a mystery novel, the book touches on profound themes regarding family, especially sisterly bonds and the love and hate between fathers and daughters. The relationship between Hwani and Maewol is thorny and complex, overshadowed by trauma, jealously, and years of separation, yet it is undeniably bone-deep. They both hurt and help each other in turn as they join forces to investigate the mystery behind their father’s disappearance.

The themes surrounding fathers and daughters is also explored with nuance. The story stretches that bond to its extremes, probing and testing it through multiple father-daughter pairs: the Min sisters and their loving but flawed father, a disfigured village girl named Gahee and her abusive father Convict Baek, and Village Elder Moon and his daughter Chaewon. The line between loving intentions and harmful consequences makes itself known through these relationships.

As the author notes in the back of the book, the story is based on real events. The book would not be what it is without the context of misogyny. Indeed, the narrative emerges from the shackles and violence imposed on women by Korean patriarchy, exacerbated by the power dynamics between the Ming empire and the Joseon tributary state. Class differences also come to the fore in framing gender and power. But the story isn’t a complete tragedy, nor is victimhood an absolute. The agency of girls and women takes center stage in Hwani and Maewol’s journey, giving hope for resistance and change.

In conclusion, The Forest of Stolen Girls is a gorgeous, gut-wrenching read that will stay with me for a long time. I look forward to reading everything that June Hur delivers in the future.

Stay tuned for a book playlist for this book later.

Trigger/Content Warnings: misogyny, assault, kidnapping, murder, abuse, child abuse, suicide, rape (implied)

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop.org

About the Author:

June Hur was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. Most of her work is inspired by her journey through life as an individual, a dreamer, and a Christian, with all its confusions, doubts, absurdities and magnificence. She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. When she’s not writing, she can be found journaling at a coffee shop. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

Her debut novel THE SILENCE OF BONES (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, April 2020) is a murder mystery set in Joseon Dynasty Korea (early 1800s), and also a coming-of-age tale about a girl searching for home. It was recently selected by the American Booksellers Association as one of the top debuts of Winter/Spring 2020 (Indies Introduce).

Author Links:

Twitter | Instagram | Website | Goodreads

Mini Reviews: 5 Southeast Asian Reads

So, I was looking through my drafts trying to delete things I didn’t need anymore when I came upon this ancient post. It was complete except for a missing cover image, and I’m not sure why I never posted it. It’s from 2017, I think? But anyway, here you go.

The Land of Forgotten Girls

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly – MG, Contemporary, Filipino American MC, Own Voices

The Land of Forgotten Girls is a poignant book that shows the power of words and stories. Sol (Soledad) and Ming (Dominga) are poor and trapped in Louisiana with their abusive stepmother Vea. In order to cope with this suffocating environment, Sol tells stories to Ming, stories passed down from their late mother as well as stories of her own making about their magical “aunt” who travels the world. These stories offer an escape for Sol but also blur the line between fantasy and reality for Ming, who is younger and impressionable. As a result, Sol is forced to grapple with whether her stories harm more than they help, whether fiction is the same as a lie.

In the absence of any loving parents, Sol finds comfort and companionship in her best friend Manny, who’s Mexican; a quiet neighbor in her apartment building, Mrs. Yeung, who’s Chinese; as well as an albino girl named Caroline who she once tormented but apologized to. With Manny and Caroline, Sol braves the neighborhood junkyard, the domain of a terrifying man she calls Blackbeard, and finds treasure and hope in the most unlikely of places. If you like stories about sisterhood, friendship, and adventure, this may be the book for you.

For a review from a Filipino reviewer, I recommend reading Glaiza’s review.

Content/Trigger warnings: bullying, abuse, racism, colorism

Something in Between

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz – YA, Contemporary, Filipino American MC, Own Voices

Something in Between doesn’t pull its punches and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of feelings. Jasmine de los Santos has it all: she’s set to be valedictorian, she’s captain of the cheer team, and she’s going to attend a top college. However, all of that unravels when she finds out her family’s visas expired years ago and they’re in the U.S. illegally. This news shocks Jasmine but doesn’t get her down completely. America is the home she identifies with, and she’s not getting deported without a fight.

Life goes on, and with the threat of deportation looming, Jasmine tries to take advantage of the time she has left before her family is forced to leave the country. During this time, she dates the handsome and rich Royce Blakely, son of a Congressman, who may be the key to obtaining legal status for her family. Their relationship is passionate but also turbulent because Royce’s dad’s stance on immigration politics place him on the opposite side of the battle Jasmine is waging on behalf of her undocumented family. The juxtaposition of their backgrounds brings into stark relief the intersections of race and class.

While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the romance subplot, I loved the de los Santos family dynamic and the complicated friendship Jasmine had with Kayla. Overall, this book provides a humanizing narrative of immigration, citizenship, and belonging in the U.S.

For a perspective from a Filipino reader, I recommend reading Sue’s review.

girl-on-the-verge

Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn – YA, Contemporary, Thriller, Thai American MC, Own Voices

Girl on the Verge is one of the most intense and mind-blowing contemporary YA novels I read in 2017. This was my Goodreads review immediately after finishing:

I didn’t intend for my review to be a haiku but the universe had the syllable count planted in my subconscious somehow so here you go:
holy fucking shit
what the hell did I just read
I need to lie down

Now to elaborate. The main character, Kanchana a.k.a Kan, is Thai American and lives in a predominantly white town in Kansas. At school, she stands out because she’s Asian, and at home, her grandmother laments that she’s too Westernized, and her way of finding a middle ground between the two cultures she’s immersed in is to design clothes.

Kan’s struggle to fit in takes on a new dynamic when her mother takes in a white girl named Shelly to live in their home. At first, things seem to work out since Shelly is eager to please and integrate into Kan’s family. However, Shelly’s presence becomes uncomfortable and even threatening when it becomes apparent that she’s morphing herself into Kan 2.0 and even trying to steal Kan’s boyfriend, Ethan. As Kan investigates Shelly’s past, she discovers shocking secrets about her own family.

Although Girl on the Verge starts out on a similar note to other contemporary stories exploring second generation Asian American identity, the thriller plotline highlights the theme of identity and belonging in a unique and gut-wrenching way. The parallels between Kan’s experiences as the girl who stands out too much and Shelly’s as the girl who nobody notices and the contrast in how they respond to feeling alienated, is fascinating and terrifying.

Trigger warnings: physical assault, sexual harassment, kidnapping, murder

Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings by Many Ly – YA, Historical Fiction*, Cambodian American MC, Own Voices

*It’s not historical as in older than 2000, but it’s not quite contemporary anymore since it was published in 2008 and probably takes place in the early 2000s based on technology cues.

The writing style for this book wasn’t out-of-this-world amazing, but the characters and themes made the story engaging and sentimental. For me, this is a book that really captures gracefully the complexity of family and community and intergenerational loss and love.

The narrative alternates between the present, which explores the aftermath of Grace’s grandmother passing away, and Grace’s past when her grandmother was still alive. At first, the focus is mostly on Grace’s difficulties with not knowing her own father and Cambodian heritage. Then, as she immerses herself in the Cambodian community in St. Petersburg, Florida, she learns more about her mother and grandmother and the reasons behind her alienation from her roots.

As we eventually see, the three generations of women in Grace’s family all struggle to balance self, family, and community as 1st, 1.5 and 2nd generation Cambodian American women, respectively. I empathized with Grace’s experience, and through her journey into her family’s history, also empathized with her mother and grandmother’s perspectives and decisions. This is definitely not your typical realistic fiction YA because of its strong focus on family and community over school/romantic/friendship drama (which were pretty much absent from the story), but it’s a powerful and important story regardless.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai – MG, Contemporary, Vietnamese American MC, Own Voices

Listen, Slowly features a 12-year-old second generation Vietnamese American girl visiting Vietnam with her family and connecting with her heritage while her grandmother searches for her long-lost grandfather who disappeared during the Vietnam War.

The title feels like an apt description of the dynamic between Mai and her heritage. Although she can’t speak Vietnamese very well, she can understand it better than she lets on to her extended family, thus much of her time is spent listening to them.

The listening she does is also figurative. Her initial reactions to spending multiple weeks in Vietnam is dismay that she will be separated from her best friend and her secret crush (referred to as “HIM” throughout the story) and the summer outings of her friends and classmates. She initially sees Vietnam as her parents’ heritage more so than her own.  Bridging the psychological distance between herself and Vietnam takes time. Through a friendship with a boy who’s learning English with the hope of going to the U.S., she begins to appreciate the language and culture of her heritage.

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

Hello, hello, if you missed my review for Zara Hossain is Here you can find my review and all the details about the book in this post. This here is a [spoiler-free] post collecting some of my favorite quotes from the book that resonated or expressed something meaningful to me. These quotes demonstrate Zara’s fierceness, her vulnerability, her tenderness, her way of navigating a hostile world, her sense of home and belonging, and her joy.

Quote #1

“The thing is, when it comes to me, Nick can be overprotective. Even though I never act like a damsel in distress, Nick has always seen himself as my knight in shining armor. I’ve never needed a knight. I can wield my own damn sword when I need to.”

page 12

Quote #2

“Just then a chorus erupts from our side, everyone calling out ‘Trans rights are human rights!’ We join in as the crowd’s energy rises, and I can’t help feeling lucky that I get to do this. It feels good to shout and drown out the hateful rhetoric coming from the opposite side of the street. It feels good to do something.”

page 23

Quote #3

“I’m exhausted from the burden of representing almost two billion people. It’s gotten to the point where anytime there’s a crime reported in the news, I find myself praying that the perpetrator is white and non-Muslim.”

page 39

Quote #4

“My heart is beating a million miles per second, and I have the urge to burst into song. Something romantic and cheesy from a Shah Rukh Khan movie.”

page 41

Quote #5

“My parents love me unconditionally, even when I put them in difficult situations. They only care about my happiness, not what society tells them they should care about. And I respect them so much for it. I have friends who struggle with who they are because their families don’t accept them. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I could never really be with someone they didn’t love too. And I know they will love Chloe.”

page 49

Quote #6

“It’s so easy to paint all the people you don’t want to accept with the same brush. That way you can tell yourself you’re just protecting your way of life and that they’re the ones encroaching upon your space.”

page 93

Quote #7

“I look at her and suddenly realize that she has little to no idea what I’m talking about. […] Chloe carries her white privilege with her wherever she goes, whether she’s aware of it or not. She can blend in completely whereas I will always be a clear target. And there are so many who’re looking to take a shot.”

page 122

Quote #8

Home. Such a loaded word. It’s strange to think that perhaps for my parents this has never really been home. Even though they chose to come here and built a good life, to them home will probably always mean Pakistan, where they grew up surrounded by my extended family and people who looked like them, where they didn’t have to explain their existence constantly. But to me, Corpus is home. It’s where all my memories were born even though I wasn’t.”

page 181

Quote #9

“Even though, on a basic level, I completely understand that my parents will always want to protect me, I’m angry that they want me to give up. But maybe I’m also angry because, on a deeper level, I know what they’re saying is true. Even if I somehow manage to stop two people, hundreds, maybe thousands, more will take their place. I see it every day, at school and online. The hatred is palpable, and people are no longer shy or reluctant to express their true feelings. Racists are becoming more emboldened every day, and it’s not just in Corpus Christi; it’s happening all over the country. But still, I’m determined to stay strong.”

page 217

Quote #10

“How do I deal with someone who’s convinced that his right to exist in this world trumps mine?”

page 228

Quote #11

“‘What kind of father lets his own child sacrifice her future for her parents?’ He looks at me, and there is so much pain in his eyes that I would do anything to make it go away.”

page 233

[Blog Tour] Review for Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

Ramadan Mubarak and happy new year to those who are celebrating/observing those holidays! I’m happy to be participating in the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices for Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan, whose debut, The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali I loved in 2019.

Book Information:

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Genre: YA Fiction

Synopsis:

Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.

Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.

But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.

From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.

Review:

Zara is much like any other teen child of immigrants in her middle class social stratum, just trying to get through high school and apply to good colleges to make those sacrifices her parents endured worth it. Unfortunately, she attends an ultra-conservative and white-dominated Catholic high school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She fights back in all the ways she can, participating in rallies and other organized actions to fight injustice with her school’s Social Justice Club, which is run by a beloved queer mentor figure, Ms. Talbot. However, when Zara and her family become victims of a series of racist and anti-Muslim hate crimes, she struggles to know how to act and react because her family’s immigration status is on the line.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is how much space Zara is given to be angry. People of color are often told our anger is too much and must be downplayed lest we be seen as aggressive and “hurting our own cause.” Zara says fuck that and calls out whiteness at every opportunity, even to the white girl she starts dating.

Even as she is filled with righteous anger, Zara is also depressed and uncertain for a lot of the book. I found that aspect incredibly realistic and relatable given the way current events have affected me and everyone I know. As someone with a strong sense of justice and material stakes in various issues, it often feels impossible to take down systems that are so much bigger than a single person. When the violence comes from those who are powerful and well connected and from policies enacted at the national level, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. Zara’s story tries to challenge that feeling and highlight some of the actions one can take to push for change.

This book is at its core a celebration of love in all its forms. Although it deals with the painful issue of hate crimes, bigotry, and oppression, it never fails to highlight the light and hope in the world. Zara may feel alone at times, but she has loyal and caring friends, family, mentors, and comrades who are there to fight alongside her, hold space for her, and pick up the slack for her when she’s struggling.

Her two best friends, Nick and Priya, were the epitome of friendship goals. And while it wasn’t the primary focus of the story, Zara’s romance with Chloe was sweet to watch take root and bloom. There is a bit of a rough patch where they have to confront the tensions of an interracial relationship where one person is white while the other is a person of color, but Chloe has enough self-awareness that allows her to do better by Zara after she messes up. The tenderness of their relationship and mutual support in the face of their respective difficulties (Chloe is dealing with her conservative Christian parents being hostile to her queerness) was really moving.

Zara’s relationship with her parents forms the beating heart of the story. Her parents are her anchor and her refuge, and she’s constantly trying to avoid making them worry for her, sometimes to her own detriment. The events of the book strain her relationship with them because even as she is searching for a way to stay in the U.S., the only place she knows as home, her parents are trying to reconcile their sacrifices and aspirations as immigrants with the hostile environment toward brown Muslim immigrants. Zara feels caught between following her parents and holding onto her own life that she’s built for herself.

The final thing I wanted to touch on in this review is how much I appreciated having supportive parents to a queer main character. In the case of Asian and Muslim families, representations of queerness tend to favor stories where the parents are completely unaccepting and oppressive, which is part of a broader pattern of racist stereotypes that assume people of color, especially Asian people, are generally and even universally more bigoted toward queer people compared to white people. The reality is much more complex and diverse. Zara’s parents accept her bisexual identity unconditionally and offer a safe space for Chloe as well. Her mother teases her affectionately about her crush on Chloe while also fighting the bigoted aunties who want to gossip at Zara’s expense. Her father, too, does not let anyone mess with Zara. I hope more queer books with positive parent-child relationships will follow.

Trigger/Content Warnings: racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim violence, hate crimes, queermisia, gun violence

Book Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble  | Bookshop.org | Book Depository

About the Author:

Sabina Khan is the author of  ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE (Scholastic/ April 6, 2021) and THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI (Scholastic, 2019). She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two daughters and the best puppy in the world.

Author Links:
Twitter | Instagram | Website

[Blog Tour] Book Playlist for Love and Other Moods by Crystal Z. Lee

I put together a playlist of some mandopop songs from the 2000-2010 era that I thought went well with Love and Other Moods. You can listen to the whole thing on YouTube or click on the hyperlinks corresponding to each song below. I’ve provided some commentary on why I chose the songs in question along with translations of some of the lyrics (done by me).

中國話 (Chinese) – S.H.E

I felt a little conflicted about including this song because I find it to be super problematic. It’s a song that’s about the increased global trendiness of “the Chinese language,” which is the title of the song. It’s problematic because it pushes Standard Mandarin as the representative language of a very linguistically diverse country. It’s also problematic because the singers, the girl group S.H.E, are actually Taiwanese but are singing about being “中國人,” which is often translated as simply “Chinese” but specifically means “Chinese” in terms of nationality, that is, a citizen of the PRC. This kind of posturing to sell an image of Chinese nationalism is by no means unique to S.H.E as a group; multiple Taiwanese celebrities will do this or at least downplay their Taiwaneseness in order to stay in the good graces of the Chinese market. In fact, it’s partially because of this very problematic theme that I felt this song was representative of Love and Other Moods, which as I mentioned in my review, deals with the nationalistic pride of Chinese people in an age of China’s increasing economic power.

Here’s a snippet of the translated lyrics:

Verse 1

Marilyn in London bought a qipao to gift to her mother
A -vsky1 in Moscow fell in love with beef dough dumplings2
[People of] Varying skin colors, varying hair colors,
In their mouths, what they recite and what they speak:
The Chinese language has started becoming trendy

For so many years we laboriously practiced English pronunciation and grammar
In recent years it’s switched to them curling their tongues3
Learning the changes of level, rising, departing, entering4
Level-level-oblique-oblique-level-level-oblique5
So intelligent the Chinese people
So elegant the Chinese language

Chorus

The whole world is learning the Chinese language
The language of Confucius6 is becoming more and more international
The whole world is speaking the Chinese language
The language we speak makes the whole world attentive and obedient

Verse 2

(First two lines since the rest is the same as lines 3-10 of Verse 1)

Susanna of New York opened a Zen style lounge bar
Wolfgang from Berlin pairs the huqin7 with the electric guitar

Translation Notes:

  1. This is an ethnic stereotype generalizing Russian people as having a last name that ends in -vsky, such as Tchaikovsky or Dostoevsky.
  2. The original is 麵疙瘩 which doesn’t seem to have a common translation in English but is a type of noodle/pasta that’s sometimes compared to gnocchi.
  3. This refers to the retroflex consonants in Chinese that are romanized using “h” in pinyin—”zh,” “ch,” “sh”—plus “r.”
  4. This terminology is used in the formal classification of the tones in Chinese linguistics.
  5. This refers to a tonal pattern in classical Chinese poetry.
  6. The version of Chinese that Confucius spoke sounds nothing like any modern Chinese language. This is like saying King Arthur’s language (Old English) is internationally dominant today lmao.
  7. Huqin is a type of traditional Chinese stringed instrument that is bowed, the most well-known of which is the erhu.

獨立 (Independence) – 蜜雪薇琪 (Michelle and Vickie)

This song is meant to represent Naomi’s experiences of establishing herself and becoming independent after her breakup with Seth unmoors her.

Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics:

Verse 1

Who will know first how many possibilities there will be?
Subtracting out half of myself and then colliding with each other
I didn’t expect that it would turn out even better—I have two of me
Appreciating you, complimenting me, challenging you, resolving me
In the faceoff, I see my true self

Chorus

Love allowed me to wise up and become independent, using myself to love people
Getting the things I want, one half [of me] is already established
Preparing to become independent at any time, not greedy and not aggrieved
Bravely breaking through every experience, it’s all about myself

威風時刻 (Majestic Moment) – 孫耀威 (Eric Sun)

If you look closely you’ll notice that the title of the song shares a word in common with the artist’s name. I think that’s probably deliberate. This is a celebratory song about the highs of an unprecedented love that I feel expresses Dante’s feelings toward Naomi.

Translated lyrics (by me):

Verse 1

Come with me
And bring your resolve
Your love is the whole world
So sing then
Advancing toward an unknown craze
With you I’m not afraid of anything

Pre-Chorus

You shook off those romantic words delivered with fresh flowers
You’d rather endure the wind and rain to run to the ends of the earth with me
In this moment, who is richer and freer than I am?
It’s like I’ve stepped onto the world’s red carpet to speak

Chorus

I’ve never felt so happy before
True love is so hard to come by
Happiness is thus bestowed upon me
In this majestic moment
I’ve never felt so happy before
The world extends so far and wide
I’m loving so freely
In this majestic moment

我和幸福有約定 (I Have a Date with Blessedness) – S.H.E

This is another song by girl group S.H.E. I picked this one because it alludes to a long-distance relationship and also mentions Taipei and Tokyo, the two cities that Naomi identifies with because her family hails from those two places. The English title I provided is the official title on the music video and listed on Wikipedia, but I personally don’t find it to be completely right, so in the translated lyrics I changed it. The phrase 幸福 means happiness but refers specifically to a long-term happiness of being content with life rather than a fleeting happiness of the moment.

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

Good night, Tokyo
Is it still raining?
Taipei has nice weather
I miss you a lot

The starlight dazzles
It’s so great that I could meet you in this life
Oh, I believe
Even without saying anything
You still know

Pre-Chorus

Because the dreary world has you in it
Everything changes
So that even a night-old cup of cheap coffee
Becomes fragrant and sweet

Chorus

Unafraid, unworried
I have a deal with happiness
Even if I’m lonely I’ll ignore it
Because longing reduces love’s distance to zero

For your sake, I’m willing
To put more effort into taking care of myself
I also ask that you never forget
We once had a deal with happiness

給我你的愛 (Give Me Your Love) – TANK

This is a sweet and straightforward love song about wanting to spend the future together with someone that expresses love through hyperbole. It’s a more mellow representation of Dante’s love for Naomi.

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

Waiting little by little
You feel at ease with me
It feels like our friendship
Has a new rapport
It can’t be bought in the convenience store
The thing we want the most
Is only found in the hands of the person we like

Chorus 1

Give me your love
Let me accompany you to the future
Give me your love
Hand in hand, not letting go
Even if the cosmos explodes
And the seawater all evaporates
I only wish that your memories
Include my embrace

Verse 2

My greatest happiness
Was discovering that I love you
My spirit has gained meaning
I cherish it with every single day
It can’t be bought in the convenience store
The thing we want the most
Is only found in the hands of the person we like

Final Chorus

Give me your love
Let me accompany you to the future
Give me your love
Hand in hand, not letting go
Even if the Earth is destroyed
And it’s too late to shed tears
I only wish that your memories
Include my embrace

[Blog Tour] Review for Love and Other Moods by Crystal Z. Lee

The year is already 1/4 over, which sounds fake, but here we are. My most recent read and the book being featured on my blog today is Love and Other Moods. When I saw that Love and Other Moods was New Adult and by a Taiwanese American author I hit the sign up so fast. There aren’t a ton of books by Taiwanese Americans in general, let alone NA, so I was pretty excited. YA is great, but I’m 28 now and having characters my age is nice. I’m reviewing this book as a part of the Bookstagram tour hosted by Colored Pages. You can check out the #LoveAndOtherMoodsTour tag on IG to see the other stops on the tour as well as enter the tour giveaway. You can see my Bookstagram post with my pictures of the book there as well.


Book Information:

Title: Love and Other Moods
Author: Crystal Z. Lee
Publisher: Balestier Press
Publication Date: December 10, 2020 
Genres: New Adult 


Synopsis:

Naomi Kita-Fan uproots her life from New York to China when her fiancé’s company transfers him to Shanghai. After a disastrous turn of events, Naomi finds herself with no job, no boyfriend, and nowhere to live in a foreign country.

Amidst the backdrop of Shanghai welcoming millions of workers and visitors to the 2010 World Expo, we meet a tapestry of characters through Naomi: Joss Kong, a Shanghai socialite who leads an enviable life, but must harbor the secrets of her husband, Tay Kai Tang. Logan Hayden, a womanizing restaurateur looking for love in all the wrong places. Pan Jinsung and Ouyang Zhangjie, a silver-aged couple struggling with adapting to the ever-changing faces of their city. Dante Ouyang, who had just returned to China after spending years overseas, must choose between being filial and being in love. All their dreams and aspirations interweave within the sprawling web of Shanghai.


Review:

Right off the bat the prologue establishes the context for the story with a first person plural narration, a choir of voices speaking their truths: these are diaspora kids who grew up across the globe settling down in Shanghai, a city of contradictions and possibilities. The histories that shaped these characters and this city, which is a character in its own right, are laid out.

The story begins with a wedding and a breakup that precipitate the remainder of the story. Naomi, who is mixed Japanese and Taiwanese American, breaks things off with her fiance Seth and must figure out how to survive in Shanghai alone. Naomi’s friend Joss marries Tay, not realizing that their married life will take a departure from the usual script for their culture.

The primary focal character is Naomi, who undergoes the most change and development throughout the story. However, the other characters do get chapters from their point of view, giving the reader a glimpse of their subjective worlds. These characters are flawed and real, each carrying their own burdens and weaknesses that bring tension to and drive the story. Although some aspects of the plot feels plucked from Asian dramas, the conflicts are genuine and realistic; the detail and texture of the story lend it substance and nuance.

Setting in the story during the 2010 World Expo underlines the major themes of the book: the rise of China on the world stage, the increasingly interconnectedness of human activity across the globe, and the tensions of ethnic/nationalistic chauvinism and how heavy histories in world history inform the lives of everyone on an interpersonal level. The story would be quite different if it were set in a different time and place.

One of the fun parts of reading this book was that a lot of the pop culture references were familiar to me. The mandopop singers that were name-dropped made me feel Seen as a diaspora kid who often consumed more media from the homeland than from the U.S. Ironically, Naomi doesn’t know who most of these people are at the beginning of the story because she grew up pretty disconnected from that part of her heritage. She slowly picks up the culture as she spends more time immersed in the Shanghainese, Chinese environment.

Another extremely recognizable part of the story was the fragility of the Chinese government’s ego when it comes to “sensitive” and “controversial” topics such as Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, border disputes with India, etc. Naomi goes through several incidents at work where sponsorships or products are dropped due to the celebrity representative or corporation involved expressing or potentially appearing to dispute the Chinese government’s claims over certain places. This is completely true to real life and a familiar part of my own experiences of growing up in a Taiwanese household where cross-strait politics were a central topic.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and found it compelling. That said, there were definitely some aspects that detracted from my enjoyment. The first was the cis/allo/heteronormativity. None of the major characters are queer, and there was only a token mention of queerness with a minor lesbian character who showed up only once (if I recall correctly). The framing of the relationships and experiences of attraction were all otherwise very cis/straight/allo. That made the story somewhat difficult to relate to as a queer and trans and aroace-spec reader because the characters were following the usual nonqueer people script of getting married and having children and settling down in their late 20s.

The second thing that bothered me was the ableism. There was some casual ableist language in the writing in places, and then there was a particular plotline (can’t disclose details because of spoilers) where ableism was really pronounced and I was super uncomfortable.

The last thing was the way language was handled. I’m not sure how much of it was the author’s stylistic choice, or pressure from the editor/publisher/industry to cater to a monolingual English-speaking audience, or what, but the way Mandarin was integrated into the story felt really heavy-handed and at points very redundant to me. There was some over-explaining of Mandarin terms. I was somewhat forgiving of that.

What really stood out to me was a scene where a bunch of foods in a list: “mustard greens jie cai sauteed with tofu skin, golden chun juan spring rolls, duck blood ya xie soup with vermicelli, white cut chicken, sticky nian gao rice cakes…” and so on. If you translate the romanized Mandarin, it reads as “mustard greens mustard greens sauteed with tofu skin, golden spring rolls spring rolls, duck blood duck blood with vermicelli, white cut chicken, sticky rice cakes rice cakes.” As a multilingual reader who speaks Mandarin, this just came off as really grating and unnecessary, and I wished the author could have just stuck to using one language throughout the whole list or having a mix of the two languages but picking one language to name each item to avoid the redundancy. Of course, this is just my opinion, other bi-/multilingual readers may not mind, and those who don’t know Mandarin/Chinese may not even notice or care. The author is herself bilingual so I don’t intend to invalidate her experiences, but that’s just how I personally reacted to it.

Content/Trigger Warnings: sexual harassment/assault, cheating, racism, misogyny, ableism, death of parents


Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Alibris

About the Author:

Crystal Z. Lee is a Taiwanese American bilingual writer and a member of the Asian Authors Alliance. She has called many places home, including Taipei, New York, Shanghai, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She was formerly a public relations executive who had worked with brands in the fashion, beauty, technology, and automotive industries. Love and Other Moods is her first New Adult novel. Her debut children’s book is forthcoming in 2021.

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Review and Fanart for Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field by Angela Ahn and Julie Kwon

Hi, everyone, and happy Year of the Ox! I’m pretty busy with school, but I’m still trying to do book reviews and blog tours. Today’s review is for Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, written by Angela Ahn and illustrated by Julie Kwon. I read Angela Ahn’s debut novel, Krista Kim-Bap, back in 2018, so it was nice to get a chance to review this second novel of hers. This blog tour is hosted by Hear Our Voices Book Tours and you can find out more about the other tour stops on their tour launch page.

Book Info: 

Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. But in one summer, that all falls apart. Told in short, accessible journal entries and combining the humor of Timmy Failure with the poignant family dynamics of Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Peter Lee will win readers’ hearts.

Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L. B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.

Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L. B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once—he needs time to sketch out a plan.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop.org | Book Depository


Review:

If you look up the word “wholesome,” this book should be there as an example. There’s so much to love in this book, which addresses several important issues for kids while being fun and uplifting.

The most obvious thing that attracted me to the book is that it features a dino-lover! I mean, a lot of people like dinosaurs, but when I was younger, I was obsessed. Like Peter, I owned tons of dinosaur books, and while I didn’t have much of a dino figure collection, I had plenty of dino plushies to go around. Science museums were my catnip, and like Peter, I did even think about becoming a paleontologist. Peter’s obsession is arguably more intense and directed since he is actually practicing the work of paleontologist by keeping a detailed field journal, digging in a simulated excavation pit, and so on. But either way, the dinosaur love really made me feel seen.

While they didn’t resonate with my own experiences, I still loved the family dynamics of the Lees. Peter lives with his dad, mom, and younger sister, and his maternal grandparents are still a regular presence in his life. His younger sister L.B. (short for “Little Beast”) is something of a prodigy, which means Peter can have intellectual conversations with her despite their 3-year age gap (he’s in 5th grade, she’s in 2nd), but she’s also just a kid, a ball of irrepressible energy, and an annoying brat at times. Even so, Peter still loves her and feels responsible for her as an older sibling. Their back-and-forth banter was one of the highlights of the book.

Peter’s parents come off as a little strict and uptight at first glance because they’re constantly trying to get their kids to do academic enrichment activities, but they are clearly acting from a place of care, and they do encourage Peter’s passions. His grandparents, by contrast, are much more laid back and doting. Peter calls them Hammy and Haji (derived from “halmeoni” and “harabeoji,” the Korean terms for grandmother and grandfather, respectively), and he can count on them to be a voice of moderation when his parents are being overly pushy. He cherishes them greatly.

This book is something of a love letter to diaspora kids. Peter is a third generation Korean Canadian (his grandparents immigrated to Canada), so he doesn’t have quite the same experience as someone who’s second gen like me, but his family still keeps ties to their roots. He’s one of three Korean kids at his school (him, his sister, and an upperclassman named Samuel), where he feels drawn to Sam and creates a Korean solidarity bond with him. While being one of few Korean kids at his school is lonely, and Peter does experience some insecurity over not knowing Korean, racism and identity struggles aren’t the focus of the book. His Korean heritage is simply the canvas on which the events of the story unfold, informing his interactions with the people and the world around him.

The true focus of the story is two-fold: dealing with the disappointment of finding out that the reality of your dream job isn’t what you expected, and coping with powerlessness when a loved one is sick and your family is hiding it from you. Both of these themes are explored and woven together in a really lovely way, and both felt intensely relatable for me as someone who has experienced both.

Peter goes on an excavation trip and realizes that digging for hours under the sun in clouds of dust doesn’t work for him and his asthma. The coolness of paleontology becomes eclipsed by the grueling, tedious work it requires. This reminded me of my own experience with aerospace engineering, one of my two undergrad degrees. I applied for the major as a space-loving nerd, thinking it was a great match for me, but when I started taking the classes for the major, I realized I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. The feelings of failure and disillusionment that come with this realization are quite painful, and this book takes Peter and the reader through those stages of extreme emotions with compassion.

At the same time, Peter realizes his Hammy’s health is declining, and the adults are keeping secrets from him about something. He eventually discovers that Hammy is developing dementia and will likely need to move into a nursing home too far away for them to visit regularly. Unable to bear the thought of growing apart from his grandmother, Peter sets to work on a special project for Hammy that leads to an epiphany about his relationship with paleontology and the skills he cultivated through that passion.

One of the things I really loved about this book is that it didn’t treat science and art as mutually exclusive or in competition with each other. Peter draws as part of his field journal entries, and even after he decides to “break up” with paleontology, he still uses his artistic skills and even explores a creative path with them. As someone who has always loved both science and art, I thought this was a nice theme to have.

Lastly, the narrative format of this book is a huge part of what makes this book such an immersive experience. The chapters are Peter’s field journal entries with the date and the current “conditions,” which range from the literal weather to more abstract representations of Peter’s emotional state. The cute illustrations by Julie Kwon help us visualize Peter’s perspective and add personality to the pages. I can’t wait to get a physical copy of the book.

Content/Trigger Warnings: bullying, ableism, hospitalization of a family member

Fanart:

I’ve been experimenting with digital drawing, and it’s still pretty new to me, so excuse the roughness of the drawing. Here’s Peter with two dino friends (not drawn to scale).


About the Author:

Angela Ahn was born in Seoul, but her family immigrated to Canada before she could walk. Armed with a BA, BEd, and MLIS, she worked for several years as a teacher and a librarian, but lately has been working from home, taking care of her two children. When she can, she writes novels for kids. She’s lived most of her life in Vancouver, B.C., with brief stints working in Hong Kong and Toronto. Although she likes to blame her parents for her atrocious Korean language skills, she will admit that she was a reluctant learner. Angela’s proud to say that her children are bookworms, and that every member of her family has a stack of novels by their bed. She’s grateful to be able to write books where her children can see faces, just like theirs, on the front covers. Angela’s first book, Krista Kim-Bap, was published in 2018 and her second book, Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, will be released March 2021.

Author Links:

Twitter | Instagram | Website | Goodreads