Tag Archives: Multiracial Protagonist

Review for Stir It Up! by Ramin Ganeshram


My Summary: Anjali loves cooking and dreams of having her own cooking reality TV show. However, her parents want “better” things for her, like getting into the elite Stuyvesant High School and working at a job that’s nothing like their humble family restaurant. When she’s accepted to a contest on the Food Network, she knows her father won’t approve, but she has plans of her own.


I love food, so the premise of this book drew my attention. A biracial, Afro-Indian Trinidadian girl from Richmond Hill, Queens, who wants to star in a Food Network show? Great. Unfortunately, I found the execution a bit lacking.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It had good elements: the centering of immigrants and POC in a story about Queens, the lovable grandmother character, the best friend who’s also a POC, the racially diverse supporting characters/show contestants, the commentary on the policing of race for people whose families have immigrated more than once, the incorporation of Indo-Caribbean food culture, and the lovely recipes that are sandwiched between chapters.

What was missing for me was substance. The writing felt too spare in many places. For readers who aren’t familiar with the ingredients and dishes mentioned in the story, it’s hard to imagine what they look like. The descriptions focused on lists of ingredients and how the dishes were prepared without much elaboration on the visual spectacle of the finished product.

And for a book that’s supposed to be about food, we get surprisingly few descriptions of smell or taste: aroma, texture, flavor, etc. Anjali spends an entire chapter at a cooking class but the actual consumption of the delicious food that’s made is crammed into a single paragraph with no details provided. Kind of anticlimactic, in my opinion. In short, I was hoping for a book that engaged my senses more.

On top of that, the plot felt a little too rushed without much downtime. There were 166 pages total, and 37 of those were recipe inserts, meaning all of the actual narrative was squeezed into about 130 pages, which is short even for a middle grade book. I wanted more build-up to and more elaboration during the contest scenes. That would have increased the emotional impact and overall weight of the story. I guess to put it another way, it felt like I was eating simple sugars when what I wanted was complex carbs. Wasn’t filling enough, I was still hungry when I was done.

Recommendation: Not sure what to say except maybe I’m not the right audience for this book? I think younger readers might be more forgiving.

Review for Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho


Note: I read this book as part of the Dumbledore’s Army Readathon challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Zacharias Wythe has a lot on his hands: he’s the newly instated Sorcerer Royal, people are accusing him of murdering his mentor and predecessor, and the magic of England is dwindling for unknown reasons. He goes off to the border between England and Fairyland to investigate and in the process, meets Prunella Gentleman, a powerful young woman with a mysterious past. Together they will change the face of thaumaturgy and magic in England.


If I had known that both of the main characters of this book were POC, I would have read it earlier. It wasn’t readily apparent from the book blurb, so I didn’t realize it until I saw people talking about it on Twitter. Anyway, I’m glad I finally got to this book.

I’m not altogether unfamiliar with Regency fantasy. I read Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery & Cecilia series years ago and enjoyed the books. Sorcerer to the Crown isn’t really YA, though, and it has a different approach to the genre. Namely, instead of the usual white British protagonists, we have a Black man and a biracial Indian woman front and center.

Sorcerer to the Crown refutes the idea that historical fantasy based on the real world has to be white. POC existed in that time, and it’s only their erasure from history that makes people think they didn’t. It also challenges the belief that historical fiction can only reproduce but not criticize the prevailing social norms of its setting.

Far from side-stepping the issue of race, Sorcerer to the Crown actively engages in critical commentary on the dominant racial attitudes of the time. The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers consists only of white men until Zacharias is brought forth by his mentor, Sir Stephen. He publicly proves himself more than capable of advanced magic; however, that does not deter many of the bigots from questioning his competency because of his skin color.

The book addresses all the subtleties and nuances of being the only POC in a white-dominated environment. For example, Zacharias feels the fear associated with having to act as a representative of his entire race. He experiences stereotype threat at first. He has a complicated relationship with Sir Stephen, whom he respects and loves as a father figure and mentor but also resents as someone who was torn away from his birth parents and at times treated more like a curiosity or pet than a child. He faces rumors that he didn’t become the Sorcerer Royal by just means. He is blamed for the decline in ambient magic levels in England.

Prunella’s experiences are shaped by the intersection of race and gender. Not only is she a POC, she’s a woman of color. Even outside the realm of magic, she is viewed through a prejudiced lens, assumed to be a morally depraved and sexually “indecent” woman. The white men of the magical establishment barely deign to recognize the magical skills of upper class white women, who are forced to purge themselves of any magic “for their own good,” let alone a biracial brown woman. The idea that she might be trained in sorcery is absurd to the Society members.

But train her Zacharias does, to both their benefits. While everyone else is making a fuss plotting to have Zacharias removed from his position and even killed, he and Prunella are working together to fix issue of the missing magic and avoid diplomatic disasters for the Crown.

Aside from tackling race and gender, the book also calls out classism. The Society members are all gentlemen from prestigious, “well-bred” families, and they largely disdain the magical spells of the working class as inferior and unsophisticated, even though objectively speaking they’re no less artful or intricately constructed than those of the rich. Zacharias doesn’t have his head too far up his ass to realize this, so he has a mind to reform not only the gender restrictions but also the class restrictions on becoming thaumaturges.

I’ll be honest and say the beginning was slow and hard to get through, but once I adjusted to the old-fashioned writing style, it was smoother sailing. The dialogue is witty and the magical elements original. I really loved the dynamic between Zacharias and Prunella, and the supporting characters were a diverse lot with their own charms. The last half definitely picked up a lot in terms of pacing, and the ending was a blast. I’m eagerly awaiting the second book in the series. The only thing that was missing from this book was queerness and disability rep.

Recommendation: Highly recommended! If you like historical fantasy with an explicitly social justice bent, this book is perfect for you.

Review for The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee


My Summary: Mimosa is one of the two remaining aromateurs on the planet and feels the weight of having to carry on her family’s business of mixing elixirs to help people fall in love. But she’s a teenager, and she wants to be able to experience some of the regular old aspects of teenage life, like joining clubs and getting a boyfriend. When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong person, she teams up with the school’s star soccer player to set things right. Unfortunately for Mim, falling for someone means losing her ultra-sensitive nose.


Stacey Lee broke her pattern of writing historical fiction, but it wasn’t a bad break at all. We still have our likable heroine, keen eye for detail, and inclusion of diversity.

The worldbuilding is done so well and makes the magical realism work. The author gives the aromateurs a history and their work a clear structure and logic that makes them believable. She also references scientific facts that help lend the magic credibility. I liked the “quotes” from past aromateurs included at the beginning of each chapter.

One of the most noteworthy things about this book is the way it engages your senses, especially the sense of smell. The kinds of details a character notices inform their perspective and are part of what makes well-written characters distinctive. Stacey Lee is a master at writing first-person narratives because she expresses those unique aspects of character voice very well.

Mim is talented and knowledgeable at what she does, having an almost encyclopedic knowledge of different scents and plants. However, that doesn’t mean she’s perfect. She makes mistakes, and her aromateur expertise is balanced out by her socially awkward side. Even when she has good intentions, those don’t always lead to good results, and she makes questionable decisions at times. More importantly, she faces the consequences of her decisions, and these mistakes feed into her growth as a character.

I love that diversity is integrated so naturally into the landscape of the book. Whiteness is far from being the default. Mim is multiracial because aromateurs are well-traveled in their quests to find ingredients for the elixirs, and she was conceived using a sperm donation. We also have Kali, Mim’s best friend who’s Samoan and queer, Whit Wu the cute and talented soccer player, Pascha Hassan the hijabi girl on the student council, Vicky the antagonist who’s Latina but not stereotypical or horrible because she’s Latina.

Although Mim is straight, the story does a decent job of challenging heteronormativity. When Mim talks about people who are predisposed to like her, she mentions boys and girls. When she’s checking people’s scents for whether they have a significant other, she doesn’t assume that whoever they might be with is of the “opposite” gender. Unfortunately, some of this good is offset by the exclusion of non-binary people and one or two places where she got a bit gender essentialist by labeling scents “male” or “female.”

Kali’s queerness was handled pretty well, overall. She’s not the token gay best friend who’s secretly in love with the protagonist or the tragic gay person. She’s not out to most people, and outing her against her wishes is never romanticized or condoned but is rather shown as being the horrible violation of privacy it is. In fact, Vicky, one of the main antagonists, uses the threat of outing Kali against Mim to get Mim to make an elixir for her.

What I appreciated about the way this situation was handled in the text was the aftermath of the way Mim responds to this threat. Mim, with good intentions, tries to take things into her own hands to defend and avenge Kali, but in the process she erases Kali’s agency and breaks away from the ethical principles that Kali respected her for, and Kali is justifiably upset by it. In the end, Kali gets to come out on her own terms, and she gets a happy ending.

I can’t really speak for the accuracy of representation as far as Kali’s Samoan identity is concerned. I’d like to see a Samoan reader’s thoughts, as there were certain things that I thought could have veered into being stereotypical instead of being realistic in the way they were portrayed: Kali’s lower-class background, her history with gangs, and her love for hip-hop.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the different relationships that it explored. Although Mim’s romance with Court was a major part of the story, it wasn’t the only relationship that was given depth and space for development. We get to see the conflicts and growths of Mim’s relationships with her mother, her estranged aunt Bryony, and Kali. Court was cute and nice, but I was a lot more invested in those other relationships, to be honest.

Another thing I liked was how the author managed to slip in little criticisms of certain social norms like institutional racism and sexism. At one point, Court remarks that Whit Wu is a better player than he is, but he got chosen to be on the Sports Illustrated cover because he looks more “All-American,” i.e. white. The school librarian also talks about sexism in her field, which is majority women but dominated by men at the upper tiers. This is a good example of diversity done right, in which diverse characters are not only present, but the characters and narrative also challenge the norms that lead to the exclusion of marginalized people.

Recommendation: Recommended for its vivid sensory descriptions, well-developed magical realism, diverse cast of characters, and heartfelt exploration of different kinds of relationships.

Review for On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendation: Read this book!

Review for The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review for Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you talking about, other genders?”

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

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

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

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

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

Review for Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana


My Summary: Tara Krishnan is used to being an outcast in her school and is devastated when her best friend decides to spend their junior year studying abroad in Argentina. However, that’s only the beginning of the changes: Tara is suddenly swept into the popular social circle of her high school, and an alternate Earth with the same people but a different history is discovered. The discovery starts to warp the world around her, from her family, to her friends, and nothing in her life will be the same again.


This book is different from a lot of contemporary YA books. Sure, it has the high school drama, the crush/romance plot, the theme of trying to fit in and make friends, etc., but it also has something more, which is incorporated and explored through the speculative element.

Before I discuss the speculative part, I want to talk a little bit about how race and class are treated in the book. The main character, Tara, is biracial, white and Indian American, but she is not white-passing. She experiences microaggressions all the time, and she’s hyperaware of her difference in her town, where she is the only brown person at school. The book describes the feeling very accurately in this passage:

“I didn’t like the defensive tone in my voice, but I often felt I was walking through a field of landmines in Greenwich. people–teachers, other students, parents–constantly made offhand comments that didn’t mean much to them, but I read something else in their words. A hidden language that told me I was different. Or maybe I was so aware of my own difference that I was just looking to be offended by other people’s words.”

One of the worst things about microaggressions is how small they are and how they’re often unintentional because that smallness, that lack of malicious intentions, is used by other people to excuse them even though the perpetuate bias. And anyone who has experienced a microaggression probably knows the feeling of questioning themselves and feeling like they’re the only one who notices and is affected. Sometimes people of color invalidate their own feelings about experiencing racist microaggressions because they don’t want to be That person who disrupts the peace by speaking up.

Tara tolerates the microaggressions for a while, but eventually she puts her foot down when she knows that she’s being tokenized and exploited through the model minority stereotype. What ensues after she loses her patience is one of the most spectacular call-outs and smackdowns of a racist in the history of YA literature. It was one of my favorite scenes in the book because it was extremely cathartic for me as someone who has been in a similar boat to Tara. I don’t think I’d ever have the guts to say something like that to someone who has authority over me at school.

Not only is Tara Indian American in a school of white people, she’s also a scholarship student at an elite prep school. While a large number of Indian Americans are part of the professional elite as engineers, doctors, etc., not all of them are. Tara’s father is one of those people who fell through the cracks in the system. He wanted to be a physicist, but ended up working as kitchen staff in a restaurant and then opening his own restaurant. Tara’s class background adds a layer to her experience of marginalization.

Tara explicitly mentions it at the beginning:

“In Connecticut, we were all alone, adrift in a sea of whiteness and wealth, and it really did feel like a sea I was drowning in.”

Her feeling of isolation isn’t just mental or emotional, it’s also a byproduct of the physical environment she’s living in, shaped by social class. Before she lived in wealthier, suburban Connecticut, she lived on the Lower East Side of New York, sharing an apartment building with twenty-four other people who were like extended family. The physical closeness of these families facilitated their psychological closeness. In the suburbs, things are markedly different, where every house has its own lawn and is set a distance away from the road, usually with a driveway and a long path between the road and the door. This physical separation from her neighbors exacerbates the mental and emotional disconnect she already feels from them.

Now, to discuss the speculative element of the book. Interwoven with Tara’s personal struggles at school and home are the repercussions of the discovery of Terra Nova. It’s an alternate Earth, with almost the same people, but with differences in its history where it deviated notably from Earth’s. The existence of this planet provokes mass curiosity that becomes obsession for many. People are intrigued by the idea that on Terra Nova, there might be another version of themselves. This idea causes people to reevaluate their relationships with the people around them as well as reflect on their own lives. In some cases, it causes them to make drastic changes, throwing off the balance in the lives they touch. Tara’s mother is one of these people, leading to more stress for Tara.

By juxtaposing and interconnecting the global and the local events in Tara’s life, Aditi Khorana introduces deeper themes on how humans deal with the question “what if?” This philosophical bent is what makes the book stand out to me among other contemporary novels.

Beyond the speculative element, the author is great at character development. Tara is initially judgmental of the people in the popular clique she gets roped into, but as the story progresses, we start to see through Tara the complexities of these characters. They have their own secret struggles and ambivalent feelings that create tensions in their relationships with one another.

The one thing I disliked about this book was that there was no definite information on what happened to one of the major characters (won’t spoil who) at the very end. It was really upsetting to me since I like to have closure. But at the same time, I think the author did it for a reason, for the sake of the broader theme of the story, so I’ve made my peace with it.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a hardcore science fiction book, this is not that kind of book. If you want a thought-provoking contemporary novel with speculative elements, read this book.

Review for The Reader by Traci Chee


My Summary: Sefia is alone. Her father has been murdered and her aunt has been kidnapped by a mysterious foe. Intent on revenge, she sets out to find this enemy and rescue her aunt. The only thing she has besides her wits and weapons is a mysterious book that her enemies desperately want to get their hands on. As she journeys on, she gains friends and allies, discovers the secrets of the book, and uncovers earth-shattering truths about her past.


Warning: Contains spoilers regarding romantic subplot developments!

This book has a little bit of everything I love: kickass heroine, cute friendships, wholesome romance, intense fights, swashbuckling adventure, awesome powers, and book nerdery.

In our world, literacy rates were low in most places up until very recent history due to inaccessibility, but a world where almost nobody knows how to read, or even knows what reading is, or what a book is? That’s a dystopia to me. I live for books and reading.

The great thing about this premise, however, is that it is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the magic of reading through the perspective of a first-time reader. And that magic is both literal as well as figurative. Along with the affective power of experiencing a story, the act of reading gives characters literal power to change the physical world around them. I am utterly enchanted by this concept.

437 pages is a fairly long book, but The Reader didn’t drag at all. The plot raced along, and not at the expense of the characters or worldbuilding. In a way, The Reader is almost like four books in one since it interweaves four different narrative arcs. The arcs seem self-contained and unrelated in the beginning, but they soon begin to converge in a series of surprising revelations and plot twists. There is some Inception level stuff in there. It also gets meta. I don’t want to spoil anything major, so I’ll leave it at that.

Another cool thing about The Reader is that there are things in the book beyond the main text: fingerprint smudges, blacked out passages, text that fades to blankness as it goes across the page, hidden messages, etc. These touches add a layer of enjoyment to the reading experience. I honestly love the formatting of the book.

Romance is often the least important part of a story to me, but Sefia and Archer’s relationship gave me cavities with how Sweet and Pure it was. It was wonderful to watch how they started out as complete strangers and gradually built their way toward a friendship and relationship built on mutual trust. They have each other’s backs in combat and are also emotional support for each other when dealing with their respective traumas. They are each hurting deeply but find it in themselves to show kindness to the other person. This is my ideal kind of relationship. *gets out tissues*

If you can’t tell, I’m in love with this book and despairing over how long I have to wait for the sequel(s).

Recommendation: There is no reason not to read this book. Read it! You won’t regret it.

P.S. I adore the cover illustration/design. It’s one of my favorites from this year.

Review for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


Trigger/Content Warnings: Depression, Suicide

Background/Notes: I’ve read this book twice, once in 2015 and once this year (2016).

My Summary: The Lees are a mixed race family (white and Asian) of five living in small-town Ohio. When middle child and family favorite Lydia is found dead in the lake, they are forced to confront all of the things that they have been hiding from one another and even repressing in themselves and find a way to move on from the tragedy of their losses.


Some spoilers ahead, so be warned!

The beauty of this book is how well-drawn and complex the characters are. They each struggle with something and make mistakes, and their struggles are shaped by their positionality in their family and their society at large. The narrative explores their experiences with being “othered” or overlooked because of people’s biases, explicit or otherwise, including microaggressions. It also deftly portrays the intersections of race and gender and class.

For example, James Lee is a second generation Chinese American, the son of Chinese immigrants who work as custodial and lunch staff at his boarding school. Understanding the hostility toward people whose differences stand out, he feels the compulsion to assimilate into American culture and pursues this relentlessly. However, he continually falls short of blending in because of his race, which he cannot change.

Marilyn Lee, who is white, does not struggle with race directly as much as she does gender. She excelled at math and science in high school and had high hopes for becoming a doctor and escaping/defying the oppressive, misogynistic expectations of the society around her and her own mother. Meeting James transforms her life in positive ways, but her unplanned pregnancy and marriage thwart her progress toward becoming a doctor.

These two tortured souls then project their failed aspirations on their children, especially Lydia, and that is what ultimately leads to the crumbling of their family and the central conflicts of the novel.

The narrative isn’t linear in its chronology. It jumps forward and backward in time, but this structure works well because it exposes the complex web of cause and effect driving the events of the novel. What seems like a localized issue of a particular moment is actually a repercussion from earlier events.

All of that said, this book gave me A Lot of Feelings for various reasons relating to my personal experiences.

Fact #1: I am the middle child in an Asian American family of five (not mixed though).

Fact #2: Because I graduated valedictorian of my high school and neither of my sisters did, I was pegged as the one who would be the most successful out of us three kids.

Fact #3: I have depression and anxiety and experience suicidal thoughts.

Fact #4: I cannot swim. I took lessons, but they didn’t result in much. I was 12 at the time and already too scared to truly learn without inhibitions.

The combination of these facts made me immediately empathize with Lydia’s character. I also confess I had a morbid fascination with finding out how exactly she died. She drowned, but since there was no sign of foul play, suicide was ruled the most likely probability by the police. (The book eventually reveals exactly how she died, toward the end, and I won’t spoil that.)

Lydia struggled with a physics class and got horrible grades for the first time. I went through something similar with my first engineering class in university.

Lydia felt intense pressure to succeed. I did (and still do). Although my parents never told me to pursue any particular major or career, I still felt obligated to pick something conventional and stable with high prestige.

Thus, when I found out she died by drowning, [presumably] by suicide…I looked at the book and thought: This could be me. (And even now, I’m honestly terrified that it might be.) Reading it felt like a wake-up call to change something about my life before I end up sharing Lydia’s presumed fate. It was also an earnest reminder to strive to be truthful and mindful with my family.

Recommendation: This story is an emotional rollercoaster ride, and if you’re okay with having your heart torn out, read it and suffer/enjoy it with the rest of us.

Review for Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen


Background: I feel obligated to review this book first since it holds a special place in my heart. Why? Because it’s the first book about a Taiwanese American character that I’d ever read, and as a Taiwanese American who was raised to be conscious and proud of my heritage, having that representation meant so much to me. My parents bought a copy for me at the North American Taiwanese Women’s Association convention in 2006 and had it signed and personalized by Justina Chen, and it’s one of my first collectible books.

My summary: Half-white, half-Taiwanese Patty Ho has never felt completely at home in her own skin. She has her hands full dealing with her ultra-strict Taiwanese mother at home and fending off racists at school. When her mother decides to ship her off to math camp at Stanford, she’s convinced that her experience will be boring and miserable. However, the camp turns out to be a lesson in self-acceptance and embracing her biracial identity.

Review: I am terrible at quantifying my feelings for books most of the time, so I’ll stick to qualitative commentary instead.

First of all, this book was a great read in terms of character voice. The story is narrated in first-person from Patty’s perspective, and her personality jumps straight off the page. She doesn’t hold back on the honesty and the sass, and she uses unconventional styles for storytelling and emphasis. She puts a uniquely Asian American spin on every situation, and the results are equal parts painfully relatable and laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The central theme of the novel is self-acceptance as it relates to racial identity, and while this may feel like an overused trope of Asian American fiction, this particular narrative is important because it addresses the perspective of biracial Asian Americans, who are often left out of the picture when discussing and representing Asian American identity. Thus, while the story may be familiar to those who have read a lot of Asian American fiction, it’s also fresh and groundbreaking in other ways.

It’s hard not to talk about Asian American representation without delving into the issue of stereotypes, so I’ll talk briefly about that. I think there are two different ways of understanding the stereotypical elements presented in the book: on the one hand, the book attempts to overturn a lot of the stereotypes and combat the racist microaggressions that Patty deals with; on the other hand, there are times when the “stereotype” in question is really just an authentic representation of Patty’s personal reality. Yes, the tiger mom is definitely a stereotype, but for Patty and many other real Asian Americans, it’s their lived reality. Moreover, it’s reductive to simply call out any element that falls into the realm of stereotypes without addressing the exact execution. In the case of Patty’s mother, while she is ultra-strict, she is also allowed depth of character and complexity. I can’t go into detail about the examples since it would contain a spoiler, but a later revelation about Patty’s mother serves to round out her character and give her background and texture.

That all said, I still have some reservations about the book’s approach to race when considering it from a critical race studies and ethnic studies perspective. One of my major critiques of the book is that it treats race and racism in a very individualized way that obscures the social context in which race and racism are embedded. Patty’s issues surrounding race seem to center on individual attitudes and actions without any thought for the historical and structural forces that shape those attitudes. The boy who bullies her is portrayed as an individual acting on his individual bigotry; the potential origins of his racist notions of Asians and Asian Americans go unremarked upon.

The other critique I have is that while the book attempts to champion mixed race Asian Americans, it veers into the realm of fetishization in certain passages. There are instances where the fetishization of Asian American women is called out, but at the same time Patty seems to find empowerment in the idea that all “hapa” (originating from the Hawaiian term “hapa haole” or half-foreigner; the use of “hapa” to refer to all half-Asian people is considered appropriative by many Native Hawaiian community members and activists, so I would avoid applying it outside of the original intended context of mixed Native Hawaiian and white/foreigner; I use it here because that was the term used in the original text) people are attractive. It’s important to note the positionality that is involved in this situation. Coming from mixed race people themselves, who are often held to white supremacist or otherwise ethnocentric beauty standards, saying that mixed race people are attractive can be a form of empowerment. However, coming from people who are not mixed race, the statement can be a form of homogenization and fetishization. In particular, the notion that mixed race people are attractive usually manifests itself in the form of a hierarchy wherein those who are mixed with white, light-skinned, and look closest to white beauty standards are seen as the most attractive. Mixed race people whose racial background is solely comprised of POC backgrounds without any white are often sidelined or erased completely. This phenomenon is referred to as “colorism” or “shadeism.”

Overall Impression and Recommendation: I say read it. It’s a fast read and an engaging narrative that will probably elicit strong emotions if you can relate to the Asian American experience, particularly the Taiwanese American experience, as it addresses certain issues that are specific to Taiwanese Americans.

P.S. If you really want an extremely detailed analysis of the book, you can definitely ask me for the 8-page academic paper I wrote on the book for my Mixed Race Identities class.