Tag Archives: New Adult

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

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

中國話 (Chinese) – S.H.E

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

Here’s a snippet of the translated lyrics:

Verse 1

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

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

Chorus

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

Verse 2

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

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

Translation Notes:

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

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

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

Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics:

Verse 1

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

Chorus

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

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

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

Translated lyrics (by me):

Verse 1

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

Pre-Chorus

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

Chorus

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

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

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

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

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

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

Pre-Chorus

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

Chorus

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

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

給我你的愛 (Give Me Your Love) – TANK

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

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

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

Chorus 1

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

Verse 2

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

Final Chorus

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

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

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


Book Information:

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


Synopsis:

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

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


Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Links:

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

About the Author:

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

Author Links: 

Most Anticipated Books for July-August

These are mostly MG/YA with a few non-kidlit titles mixed in!

July

Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn (July 4th) – NA, Fantasy, Contemporary

  • kickass Chinese American superheroine
  • demon-fighting
  • friendship
  • romance

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence (July 11th) – MG/Early reader, Contemporary

  • Japanese American MC
  • food and family traditions

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy edited by Ameriie (July 11th) – YA, Fantasy, Anthology

  • collaboration between Booktubers and authors
  • really, really want to read Cindy Pon’s “Beautiful Venom,” a Medusa retelling in a Chinese-inspired world

Monstress Vol. 2 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda – Fantasy, Steampunk/Alternate History, Graphic Novel

  • gorgeous art
  • alternate Asia

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana (July 18th) – YA, Fantasy

  • Based on Alexander the Great’s invasion of India
  • a princess turned refugee
  • female friendships
  • a magical library

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh (July 25th) – MG, Fantasy

  • biracial Korean American MC
  • a haunted house
  • sibling bonds

August

Solo by Kwame Alexander (August 1st) – YA, Contemporary

  • Black MC
  • Music and jazz
  • Father-son relationship
  • A trip to Ghana

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (August 8th) – YA, Contemporary

  • Black Jewish and bisexual MC
  • F/F couple
  • sibling relationship and mental illness rep (MC’s brother is bipolar)

The Authentics (August 8th) – YA, Contemporary

  • Iranian Muslim American MC
  • Cliques and rivalry
  • Sweet Sixteen party
  • Discovering family history

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo (August 8th) – YA, Fantasy

  • Super kickass Chinese American MC
  • Tall girl/short boy dynamic, I ship it
  • Contemporary take on The Monkey King
  • Juggling demon-fighting and academics (how)

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (August 22nd) – MG, Contemporary

  • Mexican American MC
  • The new girl experience
  • A band of misfits
  • Zine inserts (I have the ARC and they’re Legit scans of zine pages created by the author)
  • “Always Be Yourself”

Starswept by Mary Fan – YA, Science Fiction

  • Chinese violist MC
  • telepathic aliens
  • music school
  • romance and political intrigue

 

Author Interview: Sarah Kuhn

Today’s special guest for my Asian author interview series is Sarah Kuhn! Last year, her debut novel, Heroine Complex, released and was one of my top reads of 2016. Come July 4th, the sequel, Heroine Worship, will be out. I’ve invited her to talk a little about the series and Heroine Worship.

Heroine Worship

Honestly, this cover is everything. It’s so dynamic and kickass. Thanks to Jason Chan for saving Asian SFF with his amazing cover illustrations. (In addition to the covers for this series, he also illustrated Cindy Pon’s Want.)

To keep things mostly spoiler-free for book 1, I’ll just link to the synopsis on Goodreads.

As always, my comments/questions are in bold and labeled “SW.” Here we go!

SW: Well, I am super excited that Heroine Worship is about to be released. Can you offer us any teasers beyond the synopsis?

Sarah: Thank you—I’m excited too! Heroine Worship is really about Annie Chang/Aveda Jupiter figuring out who she is now that everything she’s ever known has changed. We see a lot of her internal landscape, learn a lot about what she’s been feeling. There are so many superhero feelings in this book, y’all. There are also tons of supernatural wedding shenanigans, gorgeous vintage outfits, and at least one scene with sexy cake-eating. And it gives folks something that was only teased in Heroine Complex: Evie and Aveda fighting side by side as legit co-heroines.

SW: Annie’s character is interesting to me because she’s such a drama queen but also tough at the same time. Did she spring from your head, fully-formed, like Athena, or did it take some work to bring her to life? What has your character design process been like for this series?

Sarah: She’s actually the character that’s changed the most since I came up with the idea for Book 1! Evie and Aveda weren’t originally childhood friends and she was much more of a cartoonish diva boss character I plugged in to service this bigger idea of the superhero’s personal assistant story. Once I made them longtime friends, I had to think about her in a lot more depth, think about what drives her and what makes her and Evie’s bond so deep and complicated. I kept coming back to this intense drive she has to be The Absolute Best at whatever she’s doing and how that sometimes blocks out everything else—that’s certainly something I can relate to. She’s one of my favorite characters to write because she’s so bold and loud and has a tendency to charge into situations without thinking about the consequences. I love how she 100 percent refuses to be ignored.

As far as developing characters in general for this series, one of the things I enjoy the most is putting them all in a scene together and seeing how they interact, how they bounce off of each other. For instance, Nate (Evie’s scientist boyfriend) mentoring Bea (Evie’s science-intrigued little sister) came out of that.

SW: Complex characters are more compelling! In the Heroine Complex series, we have three Asian American girl protagonists, Evie, Annie, and Bea. Which of the three are you most like, if any? What traits do you share in common with each of them?

Sarah: I think of myself as being the most like whichever character I’m writing at the time because I’m so intensely in their headspace. I connect a lot with Evie’s snarkiness and using humor as a defense mechanism and her initial insistence on seeing herself only as a sidekick—that’s how I saw myself for a long time. And I relate to Aveda’s need to be the best and fear of failure and vulnerability—as well as her extreme love of fashion. I suppose like Aveda, I now also refuse to see myself as anything less than the protagonist. Bea, I’m still getting to know—stay tuned.

SW: I can’t wait to get into Aveda/Annie’s head because I’ve been wondering what goes on there since Book 1. And I also can’t wait to see more of Bea’s perspective since she’s younger than both Aveda and Evie and therefore will have a different perspective.

If you could cast any actors for the major characters in Heroine Worship, who would you choose, and why?

Sarah: That’s impossible to answer because there are so many awesome Asian American actresses doing great work right now! My mind overloads with the possibilities. I always love seeing people post their fancasts, though!

SW: I feel like I need to go looking for good fancasts now. *makes notes to search later*

I know for your journalism, you talk a lot about Asian Americans in media. What kinds of stories are at the top of your wish list?

Sarah: I’ve said this a ton, but I always love and want to see more stories about Asian Girls Having Fun. Those stories could take so many different forms—Asian Girls Falling in Love, Asian Girls Kicking Demon Butt, Asian Girls Going Shopping and Seeing Star Wars and Gossiping Afterwards While Looking at Pictures of Cute Dogs. Just as much Asian Girls Getting to Do Cool-Ass Shit as possible.

SW: I’m on board with that. It’s great to see that more of these stories are starting to appear in YA and beyond.

Looking at what’s already out there, what are your favorite Asian American creative works (e.g. movies, tv shows, books, comics, etc.)?

Sarah: We’ll be here all day unless I restrict myself somehow—there are so many awesome Asian American creative people doing awesome shit in all mediums right now! So I’ll keep it to recommending a few books either in my genre or adjacent to it:

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger is a fantastic, funny, wonderfully earnest urban fantasy about bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol magic. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee is a clever, trope-deconstructing YA superhero book in a fun near future setting featuring cute robots and even cuter romance. And Trade Me by Courtney Milan is a swoony, sexy, witty contemporary romance about two seemingly opposite people who decide to switch lives for a month—this books makes me feel so many things and I adore the main couple so much. And all three of these books have awesome Asian American girl protagonists.

SW: Okay, I am seconding the hell out of Last Call and Not Your Sidekick, which were also among my top reads of 2016. (I’ve linked my reviews above for everyone who’s interested.) Trade Me I’ve heard of but haven’t read, but I’ll add it to my TBR. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and I wish you a wonderful launch for Heroine Worship!


Sarah Kuhn Credit CapozKnows PhotographySarah Kuhn is the author of Heroine Complex—the first in a series of novels starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. Heroine Complex is a Locus bestseller, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee for Best Urban Fantasy, and one of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blog’s best books of 2016. The sequel, Heroine Worship, is out summer 2017. She also wrote “The Ruby Equation” for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the geek girl rom-com novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from USA Today and io9 and is in development as a feature film. Current writing projects include a series of Barbie comics and a comic book continuation of the cult classic movie Clueless. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Toast, The Mary Sue, Uncanny Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.comStarTrek.com, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. (Photo Credit: CapozKnows Photography)

You can find Sarah on the Web:

Review for Love Made of Heart by Teresa LeYung Ryan

love-made-of-heart

Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find my list of books that I read and the links to the reviews for those books here.

My Summary: After Ruby Lin witnesses mother being hospitalized for a severe emotional breakdown, she is forced to confront her painful past and family history and come to terms with her own mental illness and trauma.

Review:

Trigger/Content Warnings: mentions/descriptions/discussions of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, abuse/domestic violence, suicide, hospitalization, disordered eating

To be honest, it was really hard for me to read this book. Not because it’s badly written, but because I related very strongly to the story in various ways. I guess you could say it was triggering for me at certain points. However, that didn’t make me want to stop reading; it made me want to keep reading because this is the first time I’ve really seen a narrative that comes close to reflecting my experiences with mental illness as an Asian American, and as we all keep saying, representation is important.

There are a lot of ways in which this story diverges from my experiences: my mother’s illness was leukemia, not bipolar disorder and paranoia/schizophrenia; my family wasn’t an abusive/toxic environment (Kind of spoiler alert, highlight to read: Ruby’s father beat her mother and younger brother; Ruby herself is a survivor of intimate partner violence). The story takes place about 30 years ago, in the 80s. Despite these differences, I related to both Ruby and her mother’s experiences with mental illness in many ways.

One of the things I related to a lot was the taboo and silence around mental illness within the family. Although my parents aren’t the “doesn’t believe in mental illness/counseling” type of Asian parents, they never discussed mental illness in my extended family until very, very recently, after my own experiences with it brought it into the open. For a long time, whenever mental health practitioners asked me whether I had a history of mental illness in my family, I could only shrug and say “not that I know of” because if I did, nobody talked about it. In the past year, however, my dad has told me about at least three different people on my dad’s side of the family having depression at some point, and he strongly suspects my maternal grandmother has anxiety, which would not be surprising to me at all.

The book starts out with Ruby’s mother being taken away by police. This definitely reminded me of my own experience being hospitalized. In my case, it was voluntary; I decided to commit myself to the psych ward because I was suicidal and not coping well at all; Ruby’s mother is involuntarily committed. But like her mother, I was handcuffed as a precautionary measure in case I had the urge to hurt myself (or other people). Ruby’s mother reacts to this with extreme distress, and that’s completely understandable. Even going into it voluntarily, I had this overwhelming feeling of wanting to escape and take it back because I knew I wouldn’t have any freedom for an indefinitely amount of time.

Another thing that was relatable to me was Mrs. Lin’s use of food to express defeat and anger. For her, it’s dumping out food in large quantities out of spite, for me, it was starving myself for periods of time as a “punishment.” I have a messy relationship with food. I either eat too much or eat too little as a response to my depression, so I’ve gone through periods of sharp increases in weight as well as sharp decreases in weight.

Soon after her mother’s hospitalization, Ruby starts seeing a therapist to deal with her own mental illness and trauma, and a lot of her frustrations mirror mine: I went in expecting that I’d be “fixed/cured” within a certain amount of time. I was a former straight-A student and thought that I could treat therapy like an academic class and study/work my way toward “graduating” out of my mental illness, and that I was a failure if I didn’t. (Spoiler alert: That didn’t work, and I’m still struggling with not hating myself for not getting over my depression the way some people can/have.)

One of the major themes of this book is that loving someone doesn’t always mean you should live with them. It emphasizes that having distance and setting boundaries is healthy for relationships. This was very validating to me because I always felt guilty for wanting to get away from my family and live on my own. They aren’t horrible people or abusive, but I need my space and feel stifled living at home being treated more like a teenager than an adult.

I appreciated that the author included Ruby’s experiences with racist microaggressions throughout the story. Although the narrative never makes the explicit statement or connection, and the author may not have intended for anyone to see it that way, racism can very much trigger or exacerbate mental illness. Dealing with racism that further dehumanizes you when you’re already feeling like garbage is a part of the intersectional experience of being nonwhite and mentally ill. I almost never feel safe because my awareness of systemic racism means that I know I could have racism thrown my way at any time, even by people who are close to me. Cue a ton of anxiety. On top of that, not feeling comfortable calling people out and feeling like I can’t change people’s prejudices/biases has made me feel helpless and even more depressed at times. (This is why I am livid when people attribute racism to mental illness or when white people try to deflect responsibility for their racism by claiming it’s their mental illness at fault.)

Although the title “Love Made of Heart” might lead people to assume the book is a romance book, the story focuses far more on familial love and relationships than romantic love, and I’m glad that the romantic subplot didn’t hijack the story (nor was it a “cure” for Ruby’s mental illness). In the end, the most important issue was Ruby’s growth and healing as a person, not whether she ended up with anyone.

The book isn’t perfect; it was cissexist in certain places, heteronormative in others, and it also played into the stigma against Chinese-accented English by spelling words of dialogue with L’s instead of R’s for this one character, among other things. But even so, this book meant a lot to me as an Asian American struggling with mental illness. I wish there were more books in YA/NA featuring mentally ill Asian characters, especially given that Asian American girls/women ages 15-24 have the 2nd highest suicide rate after Native American women among all ethnicities within that age group. Asian Americans are also less likely to report or seek treatment for mental illness than white Americans. A book like this one could literally save someone’s life. I’m kind of disappointed that this book was published in 2002 and I’ve really yet to see anything else like it in my search for Asian American mental illness rep.

Recommendation: If you’re interested in reading it, all the warnings I’ve given at the top and in my final paragraph apply. (It may also be difficult to get a copy as it’s old and out of print.)

Review for Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

last-call-at-the-nightshade-lounge

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendation: Highly recommended to everyone.