Author Interview: Lily LaMotte

Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.

The third author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with Lily LaMotte on her debut middle grade graphic novel Measuring Up, illustrated by Ignatz-nominated cartoonist and illustrator Ann Xu.

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to celebrate her grandmother, A-má’s, seventieth birthday together.

Since she can’t go to A-má, Cici cooks up a plan to bring A-má to her by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to pay for A-má’s plane ticket! There’s just one problem: Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food.

And after her pickled cucumber debacle at lunch, she’s determined to channel her inner Julia Child. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too?

Interview:

Q: This is a question I ask most of the Taiwanese authors who I feature, and it’s also relevant to the theme of Measuring Up: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food?

A: That’s a good question! I have to say my mom’s dumpling soup. When we visit my parents, my mom, my kids, and I sit around the kitchen table to wrap the dumplings. It’s one of those things that not only is delicious but creates memories. At home, although I don’t make dumpling soup, my husband, son, and I will do movie night where we make and eat potstickers while watching that night’s movie pick.

Q: At times the publishing industry fetishizes youthfulness in authors, putting spotlights on the so-called prodigies who get published at a young age. However, everyone’s path to publishing is different, and there is value in learning from people who transitioned into the industry at an older age. What has that process been like for you, and how has your life experience before becoming an author informed your writing?

A: I think that as we age and gain life experiences, we bring some of that into our writing. I started my writing journey twelve (!) years ago. I am pretty sure that I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say at that time. Hamline University’s low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults changed how I thought about my writing. Prior to Hamline, I had taken writing classes, webinars, gone to SCBWI conferences to further my craft but it wasn’t until I went to Hamline where we were involved in intense discussions about diversity that I thought it would be possible to write a diverse character and story.

Q: I saw from your other interviews that you were drawn to writing for children because of your experiences reading with your kids when they were younger. Children’s literature contains a wide array of subcategories segmented by age. What drew you to writing middle grade in particular?

A: I write middle grade because those stories of families and friendships speak to me. Despite my advance age, I think about family and friendship relationships because they are universal no matter one’s age. I also write picture books and have my debut picture book CHLOE’S LUNAR NEW YEAR from HarperCollins coming out Winter 2023. I had such fun reading board books and picture books to my kids when they were that age. I want to capture some of that fun in my writing for both the picture book and the middle grade groups. There is also less cynicism and more happy endings. I really like happy endings!

Q: I think it’s super cool that you had Gene Luen Yang as a writing mentor since he was one of the first Taiwanese American children’s authors I ever read when I was younger (around 14-15). When I first met him at the book festival hosted at my high school, I asked him to draw me a llama, and I still have the drawing saved. What was your favorite part of working with him?

A: I love that you still have the llama he drew for you!! Gene is not only a wonderful mentor but just a wonderful person all-around. He is so smart and was able to steer me through my story. And he did it in a way that was so supportive.

Q: I read in another interview that you had to do extremely detailed panel descriptions for Measuring Up. As someone who’s interested in writing a graphic novel script someday, I’m curious about the process of working with an illustrator. I know that you and Ann Xu collaborated through your editor. What was that triangulation like? Did Ann surprise you in a good way with any of her interpretations? And what is your favorite page or panel from Measuring Up, illustration-wise?

A: Ann is an amazing illustrator and I am so happy she not only illustrated MEASURING UP but is now working on UNHAPPY CAMPER coming next summer. As part of working with Gene, he required extensive illustration notes. It was the first time I thought about story details in that depth and I think that it helped me tremendously in figuring out who my characters were so that I could write their story. When my script went to Ann, I pulled out some of the descriptions so that she could bring her own brilliance to the book. I love the full-page panel when Cici is at the restaurant and sees herself for the first time as belonging to a place like that. I described the page as having Cici surrounded by puzzle pieces of the restaurant and equipment. I specified certain things that I knew would be restaurant versus home equipment to be helpful to the illustration process. Ann blew me away with that fantastic page. I love it so much that I created fabric with that image to make tea towels for giveaways.

Q: I love the variety of dishes that show up in the cooking competition. Did you have any systematic/meaningful way of deciding what each challenge would be and which dishes each character would make, or was it more random?

A: I thought about what kind of person each character in the competition would be so that I could decide what dish the character would make. As far as the challenge in each round, I wanted to make some of them kid-friendly but also have meaningful challenges like the sweet potato which has such a strong link to Taiwan.

Q: I’m super excited for your second graphic novel, Unhappy Camper, and can’t wait for it to hit the shelves. The premise of going to a Taiwanese American summer camp is super appealing to me because it reminds me of my own experiences attending TAA summer conferences as a kid, except those were geared toward adults with a few children’s activities on the side rather than being for children/youth. Can you tell us a little more about Unhappy Camper?

A: I’m not sure what I can say yet except that it is a sister story where my protagonist’s sister loves everything Taiwan. But for my protagonist, not so much. It isn’t until my protagonist goes to a Taiwanese American summer camp that she reclaims her cultural heritage. There’s crafting, singing, language lessons (much to her disappointment) with a tiny bit of what makes the Pacific Northwest so special.

Thank you for thinking of me for Taiwanese American Heritage Week!

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Lily LaMotte is the debut author of the middle grade graphic novel MEASURING UP from HarperCollins/HarperAlley. When she isn’t writing picture books and middle grade graphic novels, she’s cooking up new recipes. Sometimes, when she sees the gray clouds outside her window in the Pacific Northwest, she loads up the campervan for a writing retreat camping trip with her husband and two dogs.

She is a graduate of Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Author Links:

Website – http://www.lilylamotte.com
Twitter – @lilylamotte
Instagram – @lilylamottewrites

Author Interview: Ed Lin

Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.

The second author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with Ed Lin on his debut YA novel David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets into an Ivy League College.

Synopsis:

David Tung is a Chinese American high-school student who works in his family’s restaurant, competes for top rank at his upscale, Asian-majority, suburban New Jersey high school, and hangs with his “real” friends at weekend Chinese school in NYC’s working-class Chinatown.

When popular girl Christina Tau asks David to the high school Dame’s Dance, David’s tightly regimented life gets thrown into a tailspin. He soon realizes that he actually has feelings for Betty, the smartest girl at Chinese school. But, as his mother reminds him, he’s not allowed to have a girlfriend! Should he defy his mother and go to the dance, or defy Cristina’s wishes and spend Saturday night studying for the MCATs?

Ed Lin’s YA-debut explores coming-of-age in the Asian diaspora while navigating relationships through race, class, young love, and the confusing expectations of immigrant parental pressure.

Interview:

Q: Prior to publishing David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets into an Ivy League College, you wrote several mystery and crime novels for adults. What drew you to writing a young adult novel?

It was a bit of a natural progression. When writing stories set in Chinatown and Taiwan, I can’t help but see my family’s story in the course of research, and naturally, it makes me think about my own youth. I grew up in Jersey in the 80s, and I haven’t seen that reflected at all in coming-of-age stuff for those of East Asian descent. So much stuff is set on the West Coast, maybe too much. There’s a certain tougher, sarcastic edge to the Northeast, and it lends a great sense of humor to those lucky enough to have lived in the tri-state area, and I marinated the book in it. I’m doing it for the kids, but I’m also doing it for me.

Q: David Tung’s story is filled with a large cast of characters. Who was your favorite supporting character to write in this book and why?

All the characters are just different shades of me, really. I love them all, even the horrible ones, because they’ve been hurt, and this is how they react. Chun was out shoplifting because he wanted more attention from his mom, and also probably craved discipline. Andy can’t wait to be 20, so then he can procure his real-estate broker license, and try some international gray-market commercial-building deals. Jean probably won’t be happy until she moves back to L.A., which is something her family should heavily consider. Christina will probably double-down on studying just to make sure David can’t top her GPA, which would be especially humiliating.

Q: In an alternate universe where being a doctor isn’t his priority, what field(s) would David study and pursue instead? (Alternatively, what kinds of electives would he take while doing the pre-med track?)

Electives? Wow, this is really drilling down! I don’t think anything would dissuade him in this universe, but in a parallel, grimmer existence, maybe David would look into being a lawyer. Or, if he manages to work on his relationship with Betty, she might influence him into getting into global finance, or property development. The latter would be apt considering all the gentrification going on in Shark Beach. I guess he’d take electives in astronomy and geology, because the natural sciences do hold their appeal to him. He’d still do track in college if he can make the team.

Q: Food seems to come up a lot in your work, which isn’t surprising given your background. What do you think is the role of food in literature? And what are your favorite Taiwanese and/or Chinese foods?

I don’t know about the role of food in literature, but in terms of being authentic about having East Asian characters, they’d better be into getting good food! Don’t they say that Asians eat to live, and live to eat? Haven’t you ever had that experience in Taipei when you think you can’t eat another bite, and then 15 minutes later you see something that you have to eat right then? Get this. I’m allergic to seafood, including shellfish, so there are many things that I cannot eat. my favorite foods right now in my mind are: turnip cake (no dried shrimp, though!), pan-fried until crispy; a spicy beef-noodle soup with pepper grit on the bottom for texture; mango shaved ice; red-bean wheel cake, right out of the grill mold; and those giant boneless fried-chicken fillets sprinkled with chili powder.

Q: Since your debut in 2002, you’ve covered a lot of ground with 2 books set in New Jersey, 3 in New York City, and 3 in Taipei. What’s next for you in your writing career?

Make that three books set in Jersey: Math Paper Press, an imprint of Singapore’s Books, Actually, has just published Motherfuckerland, which is set on the Jersey shore. I plan to continue the Taipei series, and write some other weird books, as well. I don’t lack ideas.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Kaya Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Ed Lin, a native New Yorker of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards and is an all-around standup kinda guy.

His books include Waylaid, and a mystery trilogy set in New York’s Chinatown in the ‘70s: This Is a Bust, Snakes Can’t Run and One Red Bastard. Ghost Month, published by Soho Crime, is a Taipei-based mystery, and Incensed and 99 Ways to Die continue that series.

David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College, his first YA novel, was published by Kaya Press in October 2020.

Lin lives in Brooklyn with his wife, actress Cindy Cheung, and son.

Photo Credit: Anrong Xu

Author Links:

Website – http://www.edlinforpresident.com
Twitter – @robertchow
Instagram – @edlinforpresident

Author Interview: Addie Tsai

Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.

The first author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with Addie Tsai on her debut YA novel Dear Twin.

Synopsis:

Poppy wants to go to college like everyone else, but her father has other ideas. Ever since her mirror twin sister, Lola, mysteriously vanished, Poppy’s father has been depressed and forces her to stick around. She hopes she can convince Lola to come home, and perhaps also procure her freedom, by sending her twin a series of eighteen letters, one for each year of their lives.

When not excavating childhood memories, Poppy is sneaking away with her girlfriend Juniper, the only person who understands her. But negotiating the complexities of queer love and childhood trauma are anything but simple. And as a twin? That’s a whole different story.

Interview:

Q: You have said that Dear Twin started out as a memoir but evolved into a fictionalized story of your younger self. How did you decide which parts to keep true to your real life and which parts to fictionalize?

A: That’s a great question. There were aspects of the story I knew I would fictionalize from the start in order to protect the privacy and ownership of my family’s stories. But I would really say that when I created Poppy and Lola and the world they inhabited—inspired by my life but certainly not real—the fictional world and details emerged from there. Of course, there were moments that I wanted to bring into their world that were very much true, but those were few and far between.

Q: Your book explores some very heavy topics, ones that are stigmatized and need more space to exist within YA because they are relevant to so many teens. How did you navigate the intense vulnerability that comes with writing such personal trauma on the page?

A: Thank you for that observation! When I was a teenager reading YA, I felt isolated having never read YA that dealt with these harder themes and experiences that I knew were in many young adults’ lives, not only mine. It was incredibly difficult to navigate and it took time to get it right. It was hard to revisit some of these experiences, but also it took great care to do it in a way that wouldn’t retraumatize the reader or that wasn’t inappropriate to young adults. I took my time, and tried to consider the reader at every turn, as well as my young self in their position.

Q: I really loved the use of epistolary format and footnotes within your book. How did you decide what to place within the main narrative versus in Poppy’s letters or the footnotes?

A: I’ve always been attracted to the epistolary form, first with The Color Purple as a teenager and then Frankenstein. For Dear Twin, however, I knew I wanted this book to be the book of a single twin’s experience, and that I wanted there to be a way for Poppy to tell her story somehow. The best way to do that seemed to be the epistolary format. It also gave Lola a way to exist within the pages while also being absent from the present of the story at the same time. The footnotes, I think, work more the way they traditionally do–as asides, or a kind of nod or citation. I see the footnotes more as parentheses to the narrative than the narrative itself.

Q: I was delighted by a lot of the references to YA authors and books within the story, especially Malinda Lo, and Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After. How would you say your book is in conversation with other YA novels?

A: YAY! That makes me happy. I want the characters I create to largely live in the real world where these books exist. For me, Poppy is a way of reimagining my queer future and past at the same time, if that makes sense. What would it have been like for me if I had come of age in a world that was accepting of queerness, in which I knew that queer Asian teens (and adults) existed? How much larger would my world have become if I had been able to read books like Malinda Lo’s and Emily X.R. Pan’s at that age? These are the books I read now and the books my young self would most certainly have read as a teen, all collaged and integrated into Poppy who is both me and not-me.

In terms of how my book is in conversation with other YA novels, Dear Twin is intentionally a hybrid of YA and literary fiction, and although aesthetically in conversation with elements of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and We Are Okay, is in communion with writers like Malinda Lo and Emily X.R. Pan, among many others. I wrote against popular YA writers at the time who I felt weren’t speaking to the YA experience, or were speaking to a very cishet experience. I wrote against the trope of twins I saw playing out over and over again in various YA that I was reading then, or that I saw playing out on television marketed to teens. It is an exciting YA world these days, but we still have a long way to go. I wrote this book for queer Asians and I wrote this book for the teens that couldn’t just go on a road trip or quit school and chase after a missing girl and I wrote this book for twins who never get to see themselves as the center of the stories.

Q: Language barriers and the diaspora disconnect play a significant role in Poppy’s story, and the narration at times uses Hanyu Pinyin to transliterate certain words or phrases. How did you go about choosing whether to transliterate versus translate?

A: This is such a hard question for me! The truth is that I know only a few words in Mandarin. I did take Mandarin for two years in high school, and learned Pinyin during that time, but I’ve lost a lot of the language I acquired then. Some of the Mandarin in the book I knew, but some of it I had to look up. My publisher, Metonymy Press, hired a Pinyin editor, which I was grateful for. It felt important to me that there were times that the Mandarin existed without translation. I’m working on a new novel now in which I’m using characters and then adding footnotes with the pinyin, we’ll see how it goes!

Q: I really enjoyed the gift-giving scenes in the story. If you could curate and send your teen readers a Dear Twin themed book box and care package, what would you include in it?

A: OHHHHHHHHH. This is such an amazing question. If I had no limitations, I think it would include: a mixtape (on cassette), curated by either Poppy or Juniper, Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, poppy flower seeds, an enamel pin (which I have!) of Poppy and Juniper, a jasmine candle, some cute stationery that Poppy would love, a pair of colorful knee-highs, and a Hayley Kiyoko CD, or at the very least, a downloadable link. 

Q: Children’s literature as a publishing category has only just started to open up to more marginalized voices. While many think of diversity as a trend, it is essential to changing the publishing landscape on a foundational level not only as far as inclusion of marginalized characters are concerned but also at the level of storytelling as a craft. What far-flung corners and frontiers of children’s literature do you want to explore in the future, if any?

A: I absolutely agree with this. I would really like to explore all levels of children’s literature, including picture books and middle grade, collaborating with a queer Asian illustrator from the outset instead of being matched with one. Although I’ve never seen myself writing fantasy, I’ve been remembering more often how my first love of writing fiction began when I wrote fanfiction (though no one called it that then) of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. I recently fell in love with Mark Oshiro’s queer Latinx fantasy Each of Us a Desert, and it’s awakened in me an interest to consider fantasy as a writer (although I admit to feeling intimidated!), but from a more realistic (in worldbuilding, not in believability) point of view than a lot of the most commonly sought out YA fantasies being published these days.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Metonymy Press Shop | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Addie Tsai (she/they) is a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color, and teaches courses in literature, creative writing, dance, and humanities at Houston Community College. She also teaches in Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Regis University’s Mile High MFA in Creative Writing. They collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is the author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin. Addie’s writing has been published in Foglifter, VIDA Lit, the Texas Review, Banango Street, The Offing, Room Magazine, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, Nat. Brut., and elsewhere. They are the Fiction Co-Editor at Anomaly, Staff Writer at Spectrum South, and Founding Editor & Editor in Chief at just femme & dandy.

Author Links:

Website – www.addietsai.com
Twitter – @addiebrook

[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