Tag Archives: Taiwanese American

Taiwanese American Heritage Week 2021 Wrap-Up Post

This is my fourth year doing this series on my blog and also the year I’ve had the most posts to fill the week. It’s been a busy, hectic week but also a rewarding one. To wrap things up, I thought I’d share some books that I read recently, am currently reading, or want to read that are by Taiwanese authors and that I haven’t prominently featured on my blog. I’m also sharing some upcoming books by Taiwanese authors that you should keep an eye out for.

Recently Read:

  • Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo – This is a memoir by a Taiwanese American lawyer who works in immigrant and prisoner justice advocacy. When Michelle Kuo was younger, she did a two-year stint with Teach for America at an underfunded, majority Black public school in the Deep South, naively thinking she would be like the teacher in Freedom Writers. Not-So-Spoiler: It didn’t pan out like that. The memoir discusses her teaching experience and delves into the pitfalls of her initial approach and mentality. It also probes her regrets in leaving her teaching position for law school after finding out that one of her favorite former students, Patrick Browning, is in jail and going to be tried for murder. It chronicles the ways she tries to help him improve his literacy and sustain hope while he is imprisoned. The book is extremely candid in a way that I cannot imagine is easy to be public about, and I think it makes a good read for class-privileged East Asians who want to be better about allyship and solidarity. One of my dissatisfactions is that I wish Patrick had been given an equal voice in the book.
  • Hot Pot Night! by Vincent Chen – This is a quick but fun read. It’s a colorful, joyful picture book about food and community and a hot pot dinner bringing together some neighbors.

Currently Reading:

  • The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé  Weijun Wang – This essay collection explores the author’s experience with mental illness, specifically schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. It approaches mental illness from a number of angles, such as the history of the DSM and the changes it underwent, the hierarchies of mental illness created by the psychiatric field, the way mentally ill people may try to distance ourselves from those who are visibly “crazier” than we are, the personal experience of trying to mask one’s mental illness or pass as “normal” (with mixed results), and so on. I’m only about halfway through, but I find it very compelling.
  • Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin, Translated by Bonnie Huie – This is a translated novel set in the years following the lifting of martial law in Taiwan (after 1987). The main character is a lesbian in college who befriends a bunch of misfits, and the story full of queer yearning and infatuation, as well as a deep ambivalence and even antipathy toward society’s suffocating norms. I’m not sure I get everything that’s happening in the book, but it’s still fascinating to read as a window into my own queer Taiwanese genealogy.
  • Bestiary by K-Ming Chang – This book follows the stories of three generations of Taiwanese American women, the youngest of whom is queer. There is a lot of viscerally gross imagery that’s super unsettling, but I’m making my way slowly through it to sift through the layers. The central motif of the tiger comes from a well-known Taiwanese folktale called 虎姑婆 (Auntie Tiger) that I grew up with that is similar in a lot of ways to stories about wolves in Western folktales (e.g. The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood).
  • Love, Love by Victoria Chang – This is a middle grade novel-in-verse that’s inspired by the author’s experiences of being a second generation Asian American. The story takes places several decades ago, but a lot of the experiences are still relevant because unfortunately, people are still racist. The main character’s older sister has trichotillomania, which is rare mental illness rep for Asian kidlit.

Want to Read:

  • Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee – This is a memoir that documents the author’s journey to reconnect with her heritage while exploring the natural landscapes in Taiwan. It contains reflections on geography and colonial mapmaking practices.
  • This is My Brain in Love by I.W. Gregorio – Jocelyn Wu’s family runs a Chinese restaurant. Will Domenici, who’s biracial Black and Italian, signs up to work at the restaurant. They fall for each other, but their family’s prejudices and their respective mental illnesses make it a rough ride.
  • Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu – This just won the National Book Award. It’s about a guy delving into family secrets and the history of his Chinatown.
  • Ghost Month by Ed Lin – Murder mystery and Taiwanese night markets. Enough said.
  • The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-yi – I read another book by this author, The Man with the Compound Eyes, in one of my undergrad classes, and I liked it, so I’m trying out this one, too. It is also about searching for family secrets and touches on the history of Japanese occupation of Taiwan.
  • A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers by Hsiao Li-Hung (original Chinese title: 千江有水千江月) – This book is set in the 80s and is considered a classic of Taiwanese literature. My dad said the main character shares a lot in common with him, and I’ve been meaning to read it for several years.
  • Chrysanthemum: Voices of the Taiwanese Diaspora edited by Andrea Chu, Kevin Ko-wen Chen, and Albertine Wang – I am angry that I missed the deadline for submitting to this and that I also missed the Kickstarter for this, buuut, I managed to find a copy through Eastwind Books (if you’re interested in this one, go see if they still have any in stock). My copy is on the way to me as I speak/type.

Upcoming Releases:

2021

  • Bone House by K-Ming Chang (June 29th, 2021) – A queer Taiwanese micro-retelling of Wuthering Heights!
  • City of Illusion by Victoria Ying (July 27th, 2021) – This is the sequel to City of Secrets, which I interviewed Victoria about last year.
  • I am an American: The Wong Kim Art Story, written by Martha Brockenbrough and Grace Lin and illustrated by Julia Kuo (November 2nd, 2021) – This picture book covers an important chapter of Asian American history from the late 19th century where an American-born Chinese man with parents who were non-citizens fought for his right to U.S. citizenship. It was something we learned about in my Asian American studies courses, and I’m glad that history is being made accessible to young people.
  • Feather and Flame by Livia Blackburne (November 9th, 2021) – Mulan retelling, second in a series of Disney retelling/spinoffs called The Queen’s Council that connects different Disney stories. I am here for all of the #OwnVoices Mulan retellings tbh.
  • Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee (November 30th, 2021) – The long-awaited conclusion to the Greenbone Saga. If you know, you know. And if you haven’t already, READ JADE CITY!!!
  • Win! by Cynthia Yuan Cheng – This is supposed to come out this year but since we don’t have a cover or an official synopsis yet, there’s a possibility it’s gotten pushed back, which is okay because we’re in a panini and graphic novels are incredibly labor intensive, but also I NEED IT!!! It’s a graphic novel memoir about Cynthia’s experience joining her school’s football team as the only girl.

2022

  • Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julia Kuo (March 1st, 2022) – Julia illustrated I Dream of Popo and a bunch of other books, but this is her second (I think) picture book where she is both author and illustrator.
  • A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin (March 22nd, 2022) – Judy was among the first people I interviewed for Taiwanese American Heritage Week back in 2017. This isn’t the book we talked about in her interview, but it’s her debut. The cover is absolutely stunning. Please support it!!!
  • Untitled (#AATTMBook) by Emily X.R. Pan (April 2022) – I read an early draft of this in 2019 and I am waiting until I am allowed to yell about how great it is in more detail. I’m also looking forward to reading the new and improved version.
  • Unhappy Camper by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu (Summer 2022) – Just announced recently. It’s a middle grade graphic novel in which a girl and her sister rebuild their sibling bond and learn more about their heritage at a Taiwanese American summer camp.
  • Boys I Know by Anna Gracia (Summer 2022) – Also just announced and no Goodreads page for it yet. “18-year-old June, a Taiwanese American girl, navigates sex, love, and Planned Parenthood in her small Midwestern town.”
  • When You Wish Upon a Lantern by Gloria Chao (Fall 2022) – Just announced earlier last week. A teen girl whose family owns a wishing lantern shop in Chicago’s Chinatown tries to revitalize it by helping make the customers’ wishes come true behind the scenes. She teams up with the boy whose family runs the mooncake bakery next door and romantic shenanigans ensue.

2023

  • Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying – A contemporary YA graphic novel about a Chinese American girl who struggles with an eating disorder.

Thanks to everyone who has read my posts for this past week! Hope to see y’all again next time.

Author Interview: Jennifer Yen

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 fifth author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with Jennifer Yen on her debut YA novel A Taste for Love.

Synopsis:

To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating.

The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date.

The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.

Interview:

Q: Food is such an essential part of Taiwanese culture. What is your favorite Taiwanese food (or one of your favorites since I know how hard it is to choose), and what memories or feelings do you associate with it, if any?

A: A lot of my favorite Taiwanese foods are street snacks (or derived from them). Some of my most vivid childhood memories come from eating and sharing them with my family. Stinky tofu is still one of my go-to guilty pleasures, but it’s definitely an acquired taste—or rather, smell—for most non-Taiwanese.

There was also this fried chicken stall in the day market my mom would take us to for groceries. It was run by an elderly man, and it was his family business. There was something about his batter and spices that made his chicken out of this world. Sadly, his children opted not to carry the recipe on after he retired.

My favorite sweet street snack were these soft animal-shaped waffles. They were made from a batter very similar to Hong Kong egg waffles, and the vendors would cart around their iron molds and make them on the spot for you. What I wouldn’t give to have them again!

Q: It seems to be a common thing for second generation Taiwanese writers to first try med school or some other STEM field before becoming writers (this was a thing for Gloria Chao, Livia Blackburne, and also me). What advice do you have for Taiwanese and other Asian youth who are thinking about venturing off the beaten (and often expected) path of the doctor/lawyer/engineer trifecta to write or do other creative work?

A: This is such a tough question, because I went down the same path you did (and am still in STEM to this day)! To me, the key is compromise. Many immigrant parents drive their children towards STEM because of the perceived financial stability in those fields. Mine were definitely that way, and it stung to have them dismiss anything they didn’t consider worth my time. Now as an adult, I understand their point of view, but there’s also a middle ground. Pursue your passions, but do your research and know how to deal with the financial ups and downs of creative work. That could be a “fallback” career, or a job that at least helps you to pay the bills. It’s also important to remember that it’s never too late to be creative. There is no age limit to your imagination!

Q: If you were to pick a combination of a baked good and a bubble tea mix (base+flavor+topping) to represent Liza, Grace, James, and Ben, respectively, what would you choose for each of them, and why?

A: Hmmmm this is another great but challenging question! I would say the following:

Liza is probably charsiu bao and jasmine green milk tea with boba, because she’s sweet and salty (haha) and your go-to person for any occasion!

Grace would be egg tart and cheese foam peach oolong tea! She’s well-loved, looks impeccable, and always on trend.

James is definitely boluo bao and Japanese matcha. He’s crusty on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside. While he isn’t for everyone and takes getting used to, there’s lots of perks if you give him a chance.

Ben would be milk custard bun and brown sugar black tea with boba, because he’s sweet outside and in, but has layers you might miss if you only fall for his looks.

Q: Your story mentions Taiwanese and Korean dramas. Did you draw inspiration from any of these while you were writing? What other sources served as inspiration for the story (aside from Pride & Prejudice and GBBO)?

A: I would say that I draw inspiration from the themes and tropes we see in all dramas. However, there’s obviously cultural complexities that I weave into A Taste for Love that fall more in line with what you see in the Asian ones. One of my favorite things is the multi-layered twists Taiwanese and Korean dramas throw at their audience, and I tried incorporating a small version of that into the story (if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about). 

Q: A lot of Asian immigrant parents don’t necessarily show love through “I love you”s or physical affection. If you were to analyze Liza and her mom using the 5 Love Languages model (https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-5-love-languages-explained), how would you rank the two characters for each “language” on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being the least important, 5 being the most important?

A: Funny you mention that, because I feel a lot of immigrant families struggle with communication because the generations have different love languages.

For Mrs. Yang, she’s definitely acts of service (5), quality time (4), gifts (3), words of affirmation (2), and physical touch (1), though the last three are fairly equal (and minimal).

For Liza, I would say her primary love languages are words of affirmation (5) and gifts (4), followed by quality time (3), acts of service (2), and physical touch (1), though again, the last three are fairly equal.

One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll see Mrs. Yang and Liza switch between their love languages depending on who they are with. It’s not uncommon to see that, because all relationships involve common ground and compromise!

Q: I love how this book pays tribute to Houston and its Chinatown. Did you base any of the locations in the story on real places?

A: The majority of the places in ATFL are based on real places. Mama Lee’s is loosely based on 85C Bakery, while Mrs. Yang’s bakery is an amalgamation of the smaller, local bakeries in Houston’s Chinatown. Yin and Yang came from a joint restaurant-and-bakery my family used to frequent up in Plano (I am not sure if it still exists), and all the boba and shaved ice shops are also a combination of the many wonderful places you can find here!

Q: Since the pandemic started, a lot of East and Southeast Asian restaurants across the US have seen decreases in traffic due to racism and xenophobia. What E/SE Asian restaurants and bubble tea shops are your favorites to visit in the Houston area? (Note: Hyperlinks redirect to Google Maps!)

A: Oh my goodness! Honestly, there’s so many I could write a whole essay on them. I tend to go to restaurants for specific dishes or specialties, so it really depends on my mood! Some of the ones I’ve been eating at lately are:

  • San Dong Noodle House – Taiwanese cuisine, also the inspiration for Dumpling Dynasty…and yes, their leek dumplings are to die for (note from Shenwei: I also love this place, they have amazing dumplings!)
  • Mein – I’m obsessed with their wonton noodle soup, Sansai egg tofu, and shaking chicken/beef (along with so many other things)
  • Tofu Village (yup, it’s Tofu City in the book) – Korean BBQ
  • Pepper Lunch – Japanese DIY teppanyaki steak and seafood
  • Banana Leaf – amazing Thai food (note from Shenwei: it’s a Malaysian restaurant with different Asian regional dishes from East, Southeast, and South Asia)

As for boba shops or dessert shops, the ones I go to the most are The Teahouse Tapioca & Tea (they singlehandedly fueled ATFL while I was drafting), Sharetea, Tiger Sugar, Modern Tea, and Gong Cha. I also love the red bean soups at Meet Fresh, as well as the shaved ice there (try their brown sugar boba one—it’s heaven) and at Bing Su and Snowy Village!

Book Links:

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

About the Author:

Jennifer Yen began her writing career in the fourth grade, when her teacher took the detective story she wrote and turned it into a printed book as a gift to her. The encouragement of her teacher, as well as her love for reading and telling stories, kept her writing about the worlds that exist in her imagination.

While Jennifer’s penned everything from poetry to fanfiction, her passion lies in young adult and adult fiction. Drawing from her own experiences growing up as an Asian American, she especially loves writing about family, food, and of course…love!

Jennifer now lives in Texas with her adorable rescue dog. She spends her days healing the hearts of others, and her nights writing about love, family, and the power of acceptance. She believes in the magic of one’s imagination, and hopes her stories will bring joy and inspiration to readers.

If you find Jennifer wandering around aimlessly, please return her to the nearest milk tea shop.

Author Links:

Website – www.jenyenwrites.com
Twitter – @jenyenwrites
Instagram – @jenyenwrites
Pinterest – jenyenwrites

Author Interview: Livia Blackburne

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 fourth author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with NYT Bestselling author Livia Blackburne on her first picture book, I Dream of Popo, illustrated by Julia Kuo.

Synopsis:

From New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne and illustrator Julia Kuo, here is I Dream of Popo. This delicate, emotionally rich picture book celebrates a special connection that crosses time zones and oceans as Popo and her granddaughter hold each other in their hearts forever.

I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms.
I wave at Popo before I board my flight.
I talk to Popo from across the sea.
I tell Popo about my adventures.

When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.

Interview:

Q: Writing a picture book feels like a pretty big departure from your previous work, which were all YA fantasy. While it’s often assumed that writing picture books is “easier,” it’s not. It’s simply a different medium for storytelling. How is your process different for writing picture books versus for writing YA prose novels?

A: In comparing novels and picture books, I like to make the analogy of building a full-size ship versus a ship in a bottle. With novels, you’re working on a large scale. You’re taking giant pieces of prose and plot and moving them around. It takes a lot of hours, and you end up with something pretty massive. And while you do end up putting a little detailing here and there, but it’s impossible to give the same amount of loving detail to every single word.

With picture books however, you’re in there with your magnifying glass and your tweezers, putting everything in its exact place. And instead of worrying about getting enough material for the entire ship, now your problem is that you have too much. You have to figure out what to put in and what to leave out. It’s more delicate work. I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but it takes less time and you have chance of running out of steam on it.

Q: I know for I Dream of Popo, you got to work with both a Taiwanese American illustrator (Julia Kuo) and a Taiwanese American editor (Connie Hsu). What was that experience like?

A: It was a dream come true! It was just such a wonderful feeling, to be in a team where everybody saw themselves uniquely in the story. Everybody knew the need for the story, and everybody was completely invested in telling it and as authentic away as possible. Since we had this common cultural background, there was a lot less explaining to do. We all knew what New Year’s celebrations were supposed to be like. We all spoke mandarin , and also bonded at how bad our written Chinese was. In terms of artistic collaborations, this one was very special.

Q: For picture books where the author isn’t also the illustrator, there’s a level of trust and surrender of creative control required to craft the story into its best and final form. Did you find that aspect difficult? How much did you communicate with Julia about the illustrations? How much of what appears in the book was your idea versus hers?

A: This is my favorite aspect of writing a picture book, the chance to write the story, and then pass it for someone else to create something more out of it. Julia and I hardly communicated at all throughout the process. I think the first time I saw the pictures, they were already in an almost finished state. So in traditional publishing, a writer’s role really is just as a writer. The art director and editor take care of the book creation process. While it might be difficult for some writers to let go, I am so bad at art that I am pretty much impressed by anything, and it was fun just to sit back and see what they could come up with. As far as my contribution versus Julia’s, basically the words you see on the page are mine. All the interpretation of the words into pictures are hers. In picture book manuscript, you do have illustrator notes, which are kind of like stage directions for the artist, but I don’t think I included that many, if any.         

Q: I know during the time when you were writing the book, you had your own young daughter to take care of. Did her presence in your life affect your approach to writing the book, and if so, how?

A: Well, she’s the one I have to blame for getting me into picture books in the first place! When you’re going to the library every week and reading hundreds of picture books a year, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. I do think having my daughter also had me thinking more about family legacy, and passing on my Chinese heritage to her.

Q: Just for fun, do you have any favorite foods or places to visit in Taiwan to share?

A: I love street vendor food! Stinky tofu, especially the steamed kind that is super stinky but oh so flavorful. Rice balls and vermicelli soup are other favorites. I’m also a huge fan of Taiwanese breakfast places. My breakfast of choice is a bowl of hot sweet soy milk and a shaobing with egg and pork sung. Soooo good.

Book Links:

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

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne is a Chinese/Taiwanese American author who wrote her first novel while researching the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Since then, she’s switched to full time writing, which also involves getting into people’s heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner.

She is the author of the MIDNIGHT THIEF (An Indies Introduce New Voices selection) and ROSEMARKED (A YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee), as well as the picture book I DREAM OF POPO , which received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.

Author Links:

Website – liviablackburne.com
Twitter – @lkblackburne
Instagram – @lkblackburne
Facebook – Livia Blackburne’s Author Page
Pinterest – lkblackburne

Reflections on 15 Years of Taiwanese Diaspora Children’s Literature

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.

In this article and personal essay, I trace the 15-year history of #OwnVoices Taiwanese representation in English language children’s literature, with a primary focus on middle grade and young adult novels (including graphic novels). I also reflect on what Taiwanese representation means to me, discuss some of the difficulties of finding Taiwanese representation, and draw attention to some of the gaps in Taiwanese representation that I want to see filled in the future.

The First Taiwanese Diaspora Children’s Novels

2006 was a watershed year for Taiwanese representation in English language children’s literature. In February of 2006, The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin was published. In April of 2006, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen (referred to here on out as Nothing But the Truth) came out. Later that year, the graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang1 was released. These three books were my first exposure to Taiwanese representation in English language media and, if I’m not mistaken, the first of their kind, at least in traditional publishing.

In 2006, I was 13. That spring, my parents attended the North American Taiwanese Women’s Association Annual Conference, where Grace Lin and Justina Chen—as well as Alvina Ling, the editor for their respective books released that year—were the guest speakers. My parents returned from the conference with a set of signed books from the two authors, personalized for me and my younger sister2. Avid reader that I was, I devoured both The Year of the Dog and Nothing But the Truth in no time.

Although I had consumed plenty of media with Taiwanese people up to that point, courtesy of my mother’s love for Taiwanese romance dramas, this was the first time I’d really encountered any stories featuring Taiwanese people like me in diaspora. Reading The Year of the Dog and Nothing but the Truth, I felt seen in a way that I had never experienced before.

As for American Born Chinese, I didn’t read it until several years later as an older teen. However, Gene Luen Yang was the first among all the Taiwanese children’s authors that I got to meet in person. In 2010, he appeared as one of the author guest speakers at the Montgomery County Teen Book Festival, which was hosted at my high school that year. Because of my limited book-buying budget, I did not get a copy of American Born Chinese signed when I met him. Instead, I asked him to draw a llama (one of my obsessions at the time) for me since he was taking doodle requests from readers. I remember him looking at me with surprise and telling me that it was the first time he could remember getting such a request. Needless to say, I felt special. I kept the signed llama drawing safely tucked away in a folder, and it remains among my treasured mementos of my high school years.

The following year, I met Justina Chen at the same book festival. As a member of my school’s Literary Club, I had the special privilege of volunteering as an author escort for the festival every year, making sure that the author in my care knew where to go for each session and that they had access to pencil, paper, water, and tissues as needed. Justina was one of the authors I served that year. I was so stoked. Her debut had left a deep impression on me when I read it several years prior, to the point where I emulated aspects of the book’s epistolary format and writing style in my own personal journal narrating my life in 8th grade. It was a book that helped me realize that I could write stories about people with my own background and get published. The personalized inscription she’d written in my copy of the Nothing But the Truth, “Taiwanese girl-writers3 are STRONG & SMART,” stayed with me for years.

The Search for Representation

Fast forward several years to my undergrad life. In 2014, I declared Asian American studies as a second major after having a quarter-life crisis about my future career and feeling that aerospace engineering had lost all of the appeal it once had when I was applying to college. As a result of taking multiple classes relating to race and media, I understood the importance of representation in shaping perceptions of marginalized groups. With a newfound hunger for books representing Asian Americans, I began a quest to read as much Asian American literature as possible. For various reasons, I had practically stopped reading for leisure altogether starting in my freshman year of college, so I had a nearly four-year gap to catch up on. While I did seek out a number of adult titles, I also returned to children’s literature, which had fostered my love for reading to begin with.

Since their respective 2006 releases, Grace Lin, Justina Chen, and Gene Luen Yang had all published more books. Of the three, only Grace Lin had written any with explicitly Taiwanese main characters, found in two additional books about her fictional alter-ego Pacy: The Year of the Rat and Dumpling Days. Dumpling Days was especially important to me because it emphasized Pacy’s specifically Taiwanese American identity. The Year of the Dog had mentioned Taiwan as the place where Pacy’s parents had immigrated from, but the language of the story used Chinese as a descriptor. Since writing The Year of the Dog, Grace had undergone her own journey of understanding the differences between Chinese and Taiwanese; Dumpling Days reflected that evolved understanding. I distinctly remember reading the following passage from the book and posting a photo of it to Facebook:

“You’re Taiwanese-American,” Mom said. “And, no matter what, that’s what you’ll always be.”

Forever, I thought. I’d always be Taiwanese-American, no matter if I spoke Chinese, made my eyes bigger, or was called a Twinkie. Even if I didn’t like it. Being Taiwanese-American was like making a brush stroke. The mark couldn’t be erased, and the ink and the paper could never be separated. They were joined forever.

“Mom!” I said, grabbing her arm before she walked away. “For my name chop, can I have my name carved in Chinese and English? Can they do that?”

“Yes.” Mom nodded, a little surprised. “I’m sure they can. I’ll order them today.”

“Good,” I said, and I felt as if I had just taken off a winter coat after discovering it was summer. I was glad I had found my identity.

page 221

Sometime in 2015, after catching up on all of Grace Lin’s middle grade novels, I wrote her a fan letter, a physical one sent by snail mail4. I wrote about how important her work was to me, among other things. As promised on her author website, she wrote back. Since I hadn’t met her in person yet at the time, this letter was the next best thing on the reader fan bucket list.

I did eventually meet Grace Lin in person a few years after, at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. Despite the weight it added to my luggage, I brought along all of the middle grade books by her that I owned and didn’t already have signed. At that same conference, I also met Alvina Ling, whom I mentioned earlier, the editor behind a good number of the Taiwanese American children’s books that exist today. Like 2006, 2018 was the year of the dog. It had been twelve full years, a whole zodiac cycle, since I’d first read The Year of the Dog, and I was meeting the author and editor of that book in person. It felt like my childhood had come full circle.

Dumpling Days was published in 2012. Between 2006 and 2012, the only other children’s novel with an #OwnVoices Taiwanese American protagonist that came out, besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, was Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas by Pauline A. Chen5. Published by Bloomsbury in October 2007, this short middle grade novel did not have nearly the same amount of exposure as the Taiwanese American-authored books of 2006, which received various awards and accolades between them (notably, the Asian Pacific American Book Award/Honor and the Printz Award). I had to order it from a third-party seller on Amazon because it was out of print.

Upon reading Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas, I discovered, much to my ire, that the synopsis on the dust jacket referred to Peiling as Chinese even though the content of the book mentioned her Taiwanese heritage, and the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) on the copyright page also labeled it as being about Taiwanese Americans. Amazon’s synopsis for the book said Taiwanese rather than Chinese, but that error in the book bugged me all the same because it mirrored the constant microaggressions about my identity I’d faced throughout my life and still have to contend with even today.

A Golden Age of Taiwanese Diaspora Representation

After 2012, there was a dry spell of almost five years where, to my knowledge, no middle grade or young adult novels with #OwnVoices Taiwanese representation were published. While Grace Lin had managed to build a successful career writing Asian main characters, the publishing industry was still largely hostile or apathetic to diversifying its output at the time. Then in 2014, We Need Diverse Books was founded, representing a critical turning point for diversity in children’s literature. The seeds of change planted that year bore fruit for Taiwanese representation in summer 2017 with the publication of Want, a sci-fi dystopian YA novel by Cindy Pon set in a near-future version of Taipei. I was already a fan of Cindy through her Chinese-inspired YA fantasy duologies, but Want was extra special because it was Taiwanese through and through.

Around the same time that Want was published, several other Taiwanese diaspora authors had started breaking into the kidlit industry with agents and book deals. That year, I decided to put together the inaugural Taiwanese American Heritage Week author interview series on my blog to shine a spotlight on them. Out of the five featured authors from 2017, four write for young readers: Cindy Pon, Gloria Chao, Emily X.R. Pan, and Judy I. Lin6.

Since that 2017 interview series, Gloria Chao has published three books featuring Taiwanese American main characters (American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend), and Emily X.R. Pan has published one (The Astonishing Color of After) with a second book on the way in 2022. Their debuts both came out in early 2018, but I had a chance to read them in late 2017 thanks to some friends and acquaintances who sent me advance reader copies. Although neither really claimed any “firsts” in Taiwanese diaspora children’s literature (with maybe the exception of mental illness representation in The Astonishing Color of After), they still felt groundbreaking in their own way. The only other contemporary YA with a Taiwanese American main character in existence at the time was Nothing But the Truth, which had resonated with my younger self but felt rather dated in 2018. These new debuts heralded what I like to think of as a mini Golden Age of Taiwanese diaspora representation in children’s literature. A few #OwnVoices Taiwanese diaspora books a year isn’t much when the total of children’s publishing amounts to several thousand books published annually (most of which are very white), but it’s a welcome step up from the near invisibility of the past.

As far as middle grade is concerned, I’ve been heartened to see fantasy series inspired by Taiwanese geography, history, and culture appear in recent years. Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen trilogy was the first to come along, with book 1 in the series published in 2018 (the year that I interviewed him). In 2019 and 2020, Cindy Lin (no relation to Grace Lin) published a fantasy duology drawing on her Taiwanese heritage, mixing Japanese and Chinese influences that reflect Taiwan’s layered colonial history. Neither one is prominently as marketed as Taiwanese-inspired, and it would be easy for a cultural outsider to miss those influences and think they’re simply Chinese or more broadly East Asian, but to me, there were obvious aspects to both stories that pinged the “look, a Taiwanese thing” alerts in my head. Fantasy set in alternate universes obviously carries different implications for representation than fiction set in the real world, but seeing those little bits of Taiwan in fantasy books was still affirming in its own way.

The Struggles of the Search

One thing I think is important to note about Taiwanese representation in children’s literature is how hard it can be to find it even where it exists. This difficulty is in part a function of the fluid, dynamic, and contested nature of Taiwanese identity, as well as the publishing industry’s biases in labeling and classifying books by authors of color.

Just recently, Pew Research Center released a report in which they analyzed U.S. Census data, and they made the decision to count anyone who wrote in Taiwanese for their ethnicity under the Chinese category in a blatant act of erasure and data manipulation. The problem is not that no Taiwanese people are or identify as Chinese, but rather the assumption that all Taiwanese people are Chinese and identify as such. For those who aren’t aware, people who trace their roots to Taiwan typically identify as exclusively Chinese, exclusively Taiwanese, or both/either Chinese and/or Taiwanese, with the first being the least common and on the verge of fading out completely. I won’t explain the history behind this trend in too much detail, but suffice to say that due to this Venn diagram of identification patterns, it’s very easy for Taiwanese representation to fall through the cracks if the book uses the term Chinese in the synopsis and/or promotional materials.

While gains have been made in representation for people of color in literature, the labeling of race/ethnicity by publishers and catalogers is often either done tokenistically or discouraged, especially when it comes to talking about the content of children’s books. When a book is about [or is perceived as being primarily about] racial/ethnic identity, it is usually labeled with that specific race/ethnicity in the synopsis and in the LCSH, if those are provided on the copyright page. However, for books that are not primarily about identity or racism, the likelihood of the character’s race/ethnicity being mentioned in the synopsis or LCSH goes down. This may sometimes be done with the intention of reducing the Othering of people of color as a “marked category” in opposition to whiteness, but the reality is that gatekeepers often treat race and ethnicity as unimportant and irrelevant in stories that aren’t about identity struggles or racism. In these cases, the “colorblind” approach to labeling stories dominates, which ultimately erases how people of color move through the world differently from white people beyond experiencing racism. The tendency to only label race and ethnicity for “issue books” also stigmatizes racial/ethnic difference by tying it exclusively to trauma and suffering.

Given the above problems, I sometimes have to do a lot of digging to find Taiwanese representation. Many Taiwanese diaspora books appear on my radar through book deal announcements and official synopses that explicitly state that they are Taiwanese. However, those summaries don’t always mention a character’s ethnicity. Some of the gaps are filled by my book community network since I follow tons of people who talk about racial/ethnic diversity and representation and make a point of mentioning it for all the books that include it. However, it’s impossible for me to see every single tweet, and my network doesn’t always catch everything.

To compensate, I spend a lot of time at bookstores just methodically combing through the books on the shelves, hunting for any POC representation that slipped through the cracks. Author last names and cover illustrations are my first indicators that there might be POC representation in a book. Then, I check the synopsis.

For many ethnicities, the name of a character alone is a fairly reliable indicator of their ethnicity, but for Taiwanese people, most of whom have Chinese family names, last name alone isn’t sufficient. While Taiwan uses a different romanization system for personal names than China, there is overlap in the romanization of certain sounds and therefore names, and the correlation between romanization and country of origin isn’t quite one-to-one. If the synopsis doesn’t have any conclusive information, I check the copyright page for LCSH tags. Unfortunately, not all publishers include LCSH assignments in the book. Another option is to Google the author’s name and “Taiwanese” to see if anything comes up.

If all else fails, I start skimming the book or read it to see if it references a particular label or country. This is how I figured out that the main character in The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh is Taiwanese American prior to its publication. The ARC I received did not have the LCSH tag “Taiwanese Americans—Fiction” that appeared in the final version, so it took a bit of reading to find what I needed. I followed a similar process to ferret out the existence of the Taiwanese representation in This Is My Brain in Love by I.W. Gregorio.

The Future of Taiwanese Representation in Children’s Literature

Despite all the gains made in the past few years, there is still so much more I want to see in terms of Taiwanese representation. One experience I’m desperately craving more of is that of people who identify as Taiwanese and only Taiwanese. There are only a few I can think of in the Taiwanese diaspora children’s books that exist right now (one of these being Lily LaMotte’s middle grade graphic novel Measuring Up). There’s an entire array of microaggressions and political tensions that come with that experience that hasn’t been fully explored yet in children’s literature, only hinted at in a few places.

I also want to see more queer Taiwanese representation. I can only think of one queer Taiwanese main character in children’s literature by a Taiwanese author (Poppy from Dear Twin by Addie Tsai). Even though Taiwan is touted as the most queer-friendly Asian country, I don’t really see that reflected in diaspora narratives.

Another type of representation I want more of is books with disabled Taiwanese characters. In particular, I crave stories about mentally ill Taiwanese characters and the complexity of navigating multiple cultures that don’t make much space for those tough conversations about trauma. On a related note, I also want to see the history of the White Terror explored in children’s literature. It’s a heavy topic, but a necessary one to reckon with Taiwan’s history and the intergenerational trauma that lingers in the diaspora.

Additionally, I think the intra-Taiwanese diversity of origin and migration histories needs to be reflected in children’s literature. Taiwan is home to many different groups: the dozens of Indigenous tribes, the Hoklo and Hakka people who have been in Taiwan for hundred of years, and the Southeast and South Asian people who migrated to Taiwan more recently—and beyond. The diaspora is spread out across different parts of the U.S. as well as outside of the United States and so far there haven’t been any books with multiracial Taiwanese main characters that are by multiracial Taiwanese authors.

Translated Children’s Literature from Taiwan

Another area of Taiwanese literary growth I long for is more English language translations of children’s literature from Taiwan. The Western Anglophone literary sphere is rather averse to translated literature with the exception of adult literary fiction, leaving behind everything else that doesn’t conform to elitist standards of artistic value. Taiwan has a much smaller publishing industry than the U.S., but it still has much to offer—in general and as far as children’s literature is concerned. The Taiwanese government’s Ministry of Culture has a sub-agency called the Taiwan Creative Content Agency that maintains a site, Books from Taiwan, showcasing some of the literature from Taiwan with the intent to convince foreign publishers to acquire the rights to these titles. There are so many titles on the list that have caught my eye and made me wish I were an industry professional who could acquire them and/or translate them. Some are books I will eventually buy in Taiwan to read in their original Traditional Chinese form, but I want others who can’t read Chinese to be able to enjoy them, too.

Among the books I hope to see translated are several comics, sometimes referred to in English as “manhua,” the Mandarin equivalent of the Japanese word “manga,” to distinguish their origins. Unlike their Japanese (and to a lesser extent, Korean “manhwa”) counterparts, Taiwanese comics do not have the same global distribution and cultural influence. During the summers I spent in Taiwan in my youth, I read multiple manhua series by Selena Lin (林青慧), nicknamed Taiwan’s 漫畫小天后, the “little heavenly empress of comics,” and I wish there were more people I could talk to about her work.

Bilingual/Multilingual Children’s Books

Last but not least, I wish there were bilingual/multilingual books for children by Taiwanese authors, in English plus any languages commonly spoken in Taiwan. Unfortunately, the Anglophone supremacist tendencies of publishing means that the use of non-English (and more broadly, non-Western European) languages is discouraged to cater to an assumed monolingual English-speaking audience. As far as children’s books are concerned, Spanish is probably the only language with bilingual books available in a significant number. I own one bilingual children’s book in English and Mandarin that’s not explicitly meant for language-learning purposes. It’s called Alice in Dreams艾莉絲夢遊記 and was a limited print run picture book written by Hsuan-fu Chen and Scott Alexander and illustrated by Martin Hsu. There are more out there, but they are mostly independently published, some through crowdfunding, making them more difficult to find and obtain.

Writing the Stories I Want to See

Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I write children’s literature in addition to maintaining this blog. I hope to fill some of the gaps in representation I’ve identified through the stories that I myself write. I’m not query ready yet at this time, but I’m getting there, slowly but surely. Hopefully, in a few years, you’ll see my books on the shelves, too.


Footnotes:

  1. The protagonist of American Born Chinese is identified as Chinese American, but one of the major supporting characters is from Taiwan, so I counted it here, with consideration for the long-lasting influence ABC has had in children’s publishing.
  2. I also have an older sister, but at the time she had mostly stopped reading English language novels, and she was a bit older than the target age for the books, so I’m guessing that’s why my parents didn’t have it personalized to her as well.
  3. This was prior to realizing I was trans, when I still identified as a girl.
  4. Grace Lin doesn’t accept emails from young readers for privacy and safety reasons, so instead you can write physical letters to her. If you include a self-addressed and stamped envelope with your letter, she’ll send you the response with bookplates and bookmarks!
  5. Not to be confused with Pauline F. Chen, a Taiwanese American doctor and the author of an adult memoir called Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflection on Mortality.
  6. Judy is actually Canadian, not American, but I included her because I believe that everyone in Taiwanese diaspora is welcome to be featured and celebrated in the heritage week series.

Bibliography of Books Referenced by First Publication Date

 Here’s a list of all the middle grade and young adult books with Taiwanese representation (or that are inspired by Taiwan, in the case of secondary world fantasy) organized chronologically by first publication date. I incorporated as many as I could into the body of the article, but there were at least two I didn’t touch on here but are featured in this week’s author interviews. If I’ve missed any #OwnVoices middle grade and young adult books with Taiwanese representation that are already published, please let me know. I’ll be talking about upcoming releases with Taiwanese representation in another post featuring upcoming books by Taiwanese authors more broadly, regardless of content.

  1. Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006.
  2. Chen, Justina. Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006.
  3. Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. First Second, 2006.
  4. Chen, Pauline A. Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2007.
  5. Lin, Grace. The Year of the Rat. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2008.
  6. Lin, Grace. Dumpling Days. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012.
  7. Pon, Cindy. Want. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017.
  8. Yeh, Kat. The Way to Bea. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017.
  9. Chao, Gloria. American Panda. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018.
  10. Pan, Emily X.R. The Astonishing Color of After. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018.
  11. Lien, Henry. Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword. Henry Holt & Company Books for Young Readers, 2018.
  12. Lien, Henry. Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions. Henry Holt & Company Books for Young Readers, 2019.
  13. Lin, Cindy. The Twelve. HarperCollins, 2019.
  14. Tsai, Addie. Dear Twin. Metonymy Press, 2019.
  15. Chao, Gloria. Our Wayward Fate. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019.
  16. Chang, Victoria. Love, Love. Sterling Children’s Books, 2020.
  17. Gregorio, I.W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020.
  18. Lin, Cindy. Treasures of the Twelve. HarperCollins, 2020.
  19. LaMotte, Lily and Ann Xu. Measuring Up. HarperAlley, 2020.
  20. Lin, Ed. David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College. Kaya Press, 2020.
  21. Chao, Gloria. Rent a Boyfriend. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020.
  22. Yen, Jennifer. A Taste for Love. Razorbill, 2021.

If you liked this post, please consider tipping me since it totals just over 4000 words and took a lot of labor. Thanks!

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 Love and Other Moods by Crystal Z. Lee

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

中國話 (Chinese) – S.H.E

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

Here’s a snippet of the translated lyrics:

Verse 1

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

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

Chorus

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

Verse 2

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

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

Translation Notes:

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

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

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

Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics:

Verse 1

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

Chorus

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

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

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

Translated lyrics (by me):

Verse 1

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

Pre-Chorus

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

Chorus

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

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

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

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

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

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

Pre-Chorus

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

Chorus

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

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

給我你的愛 (Give Me Your Love) – TANK

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

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

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

Chorus 1

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

Verse 2

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

Final Chorus

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

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

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


Book Information:

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


Synopsis:

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

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


Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Links:

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

About the Author:

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

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Review for Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao

It’s finally release week for Rent a Boyfriend!!! I’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. Rent a Boyfriend was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I already interviewed Gloria about the book and her second book Our Wayward Fate on my blog earlier this year for Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so if you haven’t read that, go check it out (I also interviewed her about her debut, American Panda, in 2017 if you want to go back even further). Also, stay tuned for my favorite quotes/a bonus mini playlist (did not sign up to do one but I couldn’t help putting one together as I read) for Rent a Boyfriend in a separate post.

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: November 10, 2020
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 320 pages

Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Review:

It just occurred to me that I never reviewed either American Panda or Our Wayward Fate on my blog (sad life), so this is my first time really gushing about Gloria’s books/writing here. American Panda captured my heart with its mix of humor and heart back in 2017 when I was lucky enough to read the ARC ahead of its early 2018 release. Gloria has a signature style that has appeared in each of her books, including Rent a Boyfriend. It’s an unapologetic celebration of and tribute to the language and culture of Taiwanese and Chinese Americans, full of tongue-in-cheek puns and allusions.

While Rent a Boyfriend has mostly been hyped as a romcom with the fake dating trope, and it definitely did make me laugh out loud multiple times, it’s also very much a sentimental coming-of-age story that explores the complicated relationship between diaspora kids and their parents and culture. Both Chloe and Drew struggle to reconcile what they want for themselves with what their parents want for them. Drew puts up a front around everyone but his family and paid the price when he decided to drop out of college and pursue art. Meanwhile, Chloe has been playing the role of the perfect daughter in front of her parents and is realizing just how suffocating and unsustainable it is. When their paths cross, they begin to push each other onto a path toward being confident in their true selves.

The romance between Chloe and Drew is a mix of playful inside jokes and deeply vulnerable heart-to-hearts. Both Chloe and Drew have deep-seated insecurities that have held them back, and their budding romance brings all of those issues to the fore in messy ways. The thrill and joy of finding someone who gets them is shadowed by the lies they’ve constructed and the secrets they’ve kept close to their hearts to protect themselves after being hurt by those they love most. These tensions and conflicts are explored throughout the book, establishing its emotional core and fueling Chloe and Drew’s character arcs.

Although the romance is central to free story, I’d argue that the biggest conflict within the story is between Chloe and her mother. Chloe desperately wants her mother to be happy but resents shrinks under the constant criticisms she receives from her. Money, appearances, and purity are everything to Chloe’s mother. Their mother-daughter relationship is poisoned by internalized misogyny. Chloe tries her best to push back against these oppressive ideals, with limited success. She later learns that there is a reason behind it all, and the story balances understanding where her mother is coming from with breaking the cycle of toxicity.

As the comp to The Farewell hints, there’s a hidden cancer diagnosis in the story. Chloe finds out her parents have been hiding her father’s cancer from her and it is a source of sadness and fear for her. She struggles to understand why they would keep something so important from her, among other things. This aspect of the story hit very close to home for me since I also experienced something similar, albeit on a milder level, when my family hid my mom’s cancer diagnosis from me for a week to keep it from affecting my mental state while preparing for a college interview. Even knowing why they did it, it still hurt.

Overall, Rent a Boyfriend was such an emotional experience. I was so invested in Chloe and Drew’s stories. I laughed and sighed and teared up at various points in the story. I think it’s my new favorite from Gloria.

Content/Trigger Warnings: misogyny, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, classism homomisia, cancer


Book Links:

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

About the Author:

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.
Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at GloriaChao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram @GloriacChao.

Author Links:

Twitter: @GloriacChao
Instagram: @GloriacChao
Goodreads: Gloria Chao
Facebook: GloriaChaoAuthor
Website
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