Tag Archives: Taiwanese American

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.

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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.

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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
Newsletter

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes and Book Playlist for Rent a Boyfriend

Hello again, this is the second half of my stop for the Rent a Boyfriend Blog Tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. If you haven’t read my review for the book, you can check it out here, otherwise welcome to favorite quotes and book playlist segment!

Favorite Quotes

It wasn’t hard to find quotes to include for this post, I could do a lot more than ten, but for the purpose of not overdoing it, I’m keeping it to ten. I hope to showcase the humorous, the serious, and the romantic sides to the characters and the story. These quotes are spoiler-free, so don’t worry if you haven’t read the book yet.

Note: Chloe uses the name Jing-Jing around her parents, a doubling-up of her Chinese name, Jing (晶). Drew’s fake boyfriend persona name is Andrew.

Quote #1

“So they named you Jing as in…” He broke off and wrote the character in the air with perfect stroke order. Quite elegantly, I might add, forming each of the three “sun” characters that comprised “Jing” like he was painting.

“Yes, that’s me. Three suns. Shiny, bright, and so successful others can’t open their eyes.”

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #2

She was gradually becoming more like the girl from the application, the one with oomph and humor and a sparkle hinting at the three suns’ worth of light beneath. I stared at her with a lopsided grin before catching myself and wiping it off, only to realize that, wait, I was supposed to be looking at her like that.

from Drew’s POV

Quote #3

Were we all pretending, putting on a better face to fool everyone around us, even our family? I guess I’d been doing that my whole life, with Jing-Jing. Did anyone else go by two names and feel like that separated who they were? Did Andrew’s other clients?

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #4

Worse, what if I failed? What if I shared only to learn that I sucked at this and I’d thrown away my family for nothing? I had already fought and lost; I couldn’t lose again with the one thing I had left.

from Drew’s POV

Quote #5

And suddenly it felt like the dam within was bursting, and I couldn’t hold everything in anymore. The desire for him to lean down toward me until our breath mingled was winning pushing out all the other thoughts that no longer felt so important. How much could it hurt the mission if we did kiss just this once? In that moment, with his glistening lips not far from mine, with the scent of sugar and holiday warmth emanating from his tall, lean body, I couldn’t think of a single reason why this could be a problem.

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #6

“My Asian community was a little different. The kind that brings food over when a neighbor loses their job, takes care of the kids when so-and-so’s grandma is sick–not this Hunger Games version you seem to have, where you’re all trying to murder each other with Rhodes scholarships and doctorates.”

from Drew’s POV

Quote #7

Long-buried emotions seeped back in, but in her arms I could tell her about it. All of it. Everything from how I was scared to break that last wooden plank on the bridge to my parents, to how I worried I wasn’t good enough, to how she had inspired me to try harder.

from Drew’s POV

Quote #8

“Yup,” I said with way too much enthusiasm. [My mother] didn’t notice. Or maybe she did and we were all playing our parts. Maybe Andrew was the most real out of all of us.

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #9

“Drew looks a little out of your league,” he said to me with a toothy grin that clashed with his tone. “How’d you bag him?”

“I strung up some Sichuan food as bait and waited a few days,” I yelled back.

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #10

I’d sacrificed so much for my parents’ sake, yet we were still landing in this purgatory where no one was happy. Maybe the problem was trying to please both of us, having my (moon)cake and eating it too.

from Chloe’s POV

The Playlist

1. Numb – Linkin Park

To me, this song expresses Chloe’s relationship with her mother perfectly.

2. Man in Love – Infinite

Some of you may know from my occasional Twitter digressions into kpop fandom that Infinite is my favorite group, so of course I had to include one of their songs. Their title tracks tend to be on the angstier side, but this one is very upbeat and sweet, and I thought it was fitting for Drew’s romantic streak. Here are some of the lyrics (translation credit: popgasa)

I can’t escape because I’m in too deep
The letters in my book are dancing
as they form your name
As if you’re the main character of the movie,
as if you’re the moon in the sky, I keep seeing you
I draw you out every day
My heart will rest only when you come into my arms
I’ll be your resting place that will never cool down

3. Life – Heo Youngsaeng

This song also represents Drew’s feelings but in a more somber way. It expresses his thoughts on how Chloe has inspired him to move forward in life. Here are some of the lyrics (translation credit: KookieKane13 on YouTube):

At the weight of life that is like an endless rat race
At the endless homework and unsolvable problems
Just like an answer, like a time of rest,
Just like destiny, you come to me
Making me walk through the thickly setting fog

You drag me outside of the world that exhaustively pestered me
I found a reason to live and breathe

Just when things were getting so thick and I couldn’t see
Just when I was getting lost, wondering where I was
Just like a ray of light, like a map
Like a lighthouse, you appeared to me
Making me walk through the thickly setting fog

When I was getting so tired and collapsing, you found me
You raise me up and make me take a step forward

4. My Love – Ailee ft. Swings

This song expresses the tension between Chloe and Drew arising from Drew’s insecurity over their class differences. Aside from this one line about being “not like other girls” (sighhh), I thought the lyrics were pretty spot on.

5. 君さえいれば (Kimi Sae Ireba/If You Were Here) – DEEN

This is another sentimental love song expressing Drew’s feelings. Selected lyrics (translation credit: Kiwi Musume):

We’ve come so close
That there’s only a few centimeters between us,
And what started by chance becomes fate.
For the sake of your carefree laugh,
I get used to the 4-dimensional conversations,
And, without realizing it, lock myself away.

If only you were here,
I could walk the most distant of roads —
I’ll take care of you all the time.
The earth’s water is
Nourishment for these invisible flowers…
I need your love,
A light that breaks through the darkness.

What if we were reborn…?
I keep saying things like that —
It’s my weakness.
I know I’m getting cold feet,
But vowing an eternal love
Isn’t so simple — I just like being with you.

Is it because you know its fragility
Is the very thing that makes this beautiful?
We hide each other behind kisses…
If tomorrow is looming on the horizon,
Then the wind and the waves aren’t so bad —
I’m no match for you.

[Blog Tour] Touring Taipei with The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

I’m so excited to present this special post for the Tour the World in 30 Books blog tour hosted by Sammie @ The Bookwyrm’s Den.

Tour the World in 30 Books is a blog tour focused on introducing readers to our favorite diverse books. It’s in conjunction with a Diverse Book Drive hosted by the CCPL—a small, rural library in an area with a high poverty rate and a very homogeneous population, where people rarely have the means to travel or experience new perspectives. However, the library doesn’t believe that should stop people from learning more about the world around them, so they’re running a Diverse Book Drive through the month of September in an attempt to bring the rest of the world to the county instead. With a focus on MG and YA books, the CCPL aims to expose especially its young patrons to new and diverse perspectives and cultures.

WANT TO DONATE?

The CCPL is accepting monetary donations sent via PayPal to orders@caseylibrary.org.

For donations of new or gently used books, send them to:

Sammie Betler
Casey County Public Library
238 Middleburg St.
Liberty, KY 42539

I’ve also put together a wish list of all the books that will be featured on this blog tour. Hardbacks are preferred but not required.

(If you order something from the Book Shop wishlist, please DM @srbetler on Twitter or email sammie@thebookwyrmsden.com, because I don’t believe that site automatically removes books from the wish list.)

Need more ideas? The library has a general Amazon wish list with suggestions, too.

Donations are used at the discretion of the library.


If you can’t donate, that’s fine. You can still join me for a little virtual visit to Taipei, Taiwan via one of my favorite books, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan. This book is the first young adult contemporary book I ever read that is set in Taiwan, so it was very special to me. I interviewed Emily about the book back in 2017 as part of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series but never reviewed the book after, so I’ve decided to make up for that with this post, which isn’t actually a review but rather a post discussing the Taiwanese elements to the story and its setting, complete with pictures. For some, it will be an introduction to a few aspects of Taiwanese culture, and if you are Taiwanese/have been to Taiwan, hopefully it hits the nostalgia buttons.

Synopsis:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

Note: All photos are taken by me unless otherwise specified. Please do not repost without permission or credit.

Daily Life

Store Signs

Vertical signs hang on both sides of the streets–lit-up stripes in yellows and blues and pinks and greens, bearing logos and Chinese characters.

(Page 223)

Taiwan is a small country that’s densely populated, so buildings tend to be small in width and length while extending up many floors. Stores usually occupy the first floor of buildings while the remaining floors are residential compounds. Chinese is traditionally read from top to bottom, and many stores have a vertical sign extending perpendicularly out above their storefront that reads from top to bottom so you can see the signs from a distance before you actually reach the store.

A view of a street in Tainan with a stationery store bearing a vertical sign.

7-Eleven

“There’s a Seven-Eleven on every corner–people just call them Seven.”

(Page 44)

Although 7-Eleven originated in the United States, they are more ubiquitous in Taiwan, where they constitute the largest convenience store chain and have the second highest per capita store count (second after Japan). The “convenience” in convenience store goes beyond what you would find in the U.S., as you can pay your credit card bill, receive packages, print and scan documents, and more at a 7-Eleven in Taiwan. I associate 7-Eleven with grabbing a quick bite to eat or a drink to quench your thirst.

Here’s a video from a Filipino YouTuber showing what’s inside of a nicer, bigger 7-Eleven in Taipei:

Garbage Trucks

“Their garbage trucks play music; it’s so random.”

(Page 44)

Taiwan has a reputation for being relatively eco-friendly. Trash collection and recycling is taken very seriously, and you can be fined for not sorting your trash properly between recyclable and non-recyclable items. On set days of the week, at the same time each of those days, garbage and recycling trucks stop at designated places on the streets where the people living nearby can come out to dispose of their trash bags. The most interesting aspect of the trash collection ritual is that the trucks play adaptations of classical music as an alert that they have arrived. Some play Beethoven’s Fur Elise while others play Badarzewska-Baranowska’s The Maiden’s Prayer.

Objects and Symbolism

Jade Cicada Necklace

“She makes a beeline toward the nightstand and picks up my mother’s necklace, holding the cicada pendant up to a sliver of sun peeking out from behind the curtain. The light catches on the jade.”

(Page 65)

An important object that Leigh holds onto is her mother’s jade cicada necklace. Jade is a semiprecious stone that has a lot of significance in Taiwanese culture. Jade jewelry is very common, and I own a few jade accessories myself, including several jade roosters (my zodiac animal). Taiwanese American figure skater Karen Chen wears a jade necklace shaped like a rabbit (her zodiac animal) for good luck. My name in Chinese contains a character with the radical for jade.


My jade rooster collection plus a jade necklace that has “longevity” carved on one side and “prosperity” on the other.

Number Puns

Feng’s apartment is in a residential alley, tucked deep inside a tangle of narrow roads. I march us right up to the wide concrete step and double dooors of shiny steel, and buzz number 1314.

(Page 286)

Chinese has a lot of number homophones, so there are a ton of puns and coded messages that can be made using numbers. 1314 sounds like the Chinese phrase that means “for a lifetime.” As a result, this number is a romantic symbol.

Places

Taipei 101

The eighty-ninth floor of the Taipei 101 tower is the observatory deck, where you can look out at the entire city through walls of glass. Buildings in miniature. Mountains layered in the distance like gentle strokes of watercolor, the farthest ones fogged and fading into the clouds. It’s a strange juxtaposition: the city so tightly packed, everything build so closely together–and beyond that, the sprawling greens and blues of lush forests.

Feng won’t shut up. She’s going on and on with all sorts of tourist facts. “So it’s the only wind damper in the entire world that’s on exhibit for people to see.”

(Page 108)

Taipei 101 was, at the time of its completion in 2004, the tallest building in the world. As its name suggests, it’s 101 stories tall. Elements of traditional Chinese architecture and symbolism are incorporated into the design, which evokes a pagoda. The indoor observation deck is on the 88th and 89th floors (88 is an auspicious number representing prosperity).

The wind damper inside Taipei 101 is the largest and heaviest mass damper in the world. It’s become such an iconic tourist attraction that there is an official mass damper mascot called Damper Baby.

Jiufen

Light rain pricks its way down into the narrow alley between the little shops and stands. It’s impossible to take two steps without running into someone, but the crown thins as the rain picks up. Red lanterns swing overhead in long lines. The sound of rhythmic drumming winds its way down to the street. Outside a shop selling carved stamps, a little dog with floppy ears and caramel fur sleeps snugly curled, oblivious to the bustling around him.

In the teahouse, we sit all the way up on the third floor against the windows, peering out over the town and the water.

(Page 327)

Leigh visits Jiufen with her grandmother and takes shelter at a tea house that is probably A-Mei Tea House. Jiufen is a seaside town located in the mountains in New Taipei City. It’s a very scenic place and has become a popular tourist attraction over the years, fueled in part by the acclaimed historical film A City of Sadness by renowned Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, as well as its resemblance to the setting of Studio Ghibli’s feature film Spirited Away.

Danshui

The next morning, we hire a car that drives the four of us to Danshui, to the sea.

(Page 436)

Leigh goes with her family to scatter ashes in Danshui, officially romanized as Tamsui. It’s a port district that was historically a key holding for various colonial powers controlling parts of Taiwan, including the Spanish, the Dutch, and the Qing Dynasty. Today it’s a popular tourist destination due to its rich cultural heritage and scenic seaside view.

The view across the Tamsui Harbor.

Food

Taiwanese Breakfast

Waigong is already seated, his wooden cane leaning against the table by his elbow. He picks up one of the sesame-dotted flatbreads, digs his finger into the side, and opens the two layers like butterfly wings. He stuffs it with a section of cruller, and dunks the whole thing in his soy milk–just the way Mom would have eaten it.

(Page 66)

Breakfast shops that serve fresh, hot food in Taiwan are usually a short walk away from home. Some of the most common and iconic items on the menu that are mentioned in The Astonishing Color of After include shaobing, youtiao, doujiang, luobogao, danbing, and fantuan. My personal favorite is danbing, which is an omelette of sorts made of a scrambled egg rolled up inside a savory crepe-like wrapper made of dough with scallions mixed in.

Bubble Tea

Waipo bought us bubble tea, and we sat on a park bench people-watching as we sucked the tapioca up through fat straws.

(Page 67)

Although bubble tea has only been around for a few decades (it’s a Millennial!), it’s become extremely popular across Asia and beyond. While milk tea has existed for a while, the tapioca pearls were first added to the drink in Taiwan in Taichung during the 1980s. There are competing claims to which tea shop invented bubble tea from Chun Shui Tang and Hanlin Tea House, and in 2019, the Taiwanese courts ruled that neither side won the claim. I visited a Chun Shui Tang location in Taichung back in 2016.

Bubble tea shops are everywhere in Taiwan and a large cup usually goes for 40 to 60 NTD, which is between a little more than $1 and not quite $2 (USD). The big chains have expanded outside of Taiwan and can be found in some cities in the United States.

Taiwanese Bakeries

All around us are shelves bearing trays of baked goods. Which of these would my mother have picked out for herself? The cheery yellow tarts? The fat buns? Or the strangely shaped rolls, embedded with corn and scallions?

(Page 106)

East Asia is known for its bakeries that have remixed European baked goods with an Asian twist. The word for bread in Taiwanese Hokkien is “pháng,” which comes from the Japanese “pan” (パン), which in turn came from the Portuguese “pão.” Taiwan boasts a baker named Wu Pao-chun who won the international baking competition Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 2010. He has his own bakery chain and a movie based on his life story starring Taiwanese actor Lego Lee called 27°C – Loaf Rock (available on YouTube but not with English subtitles, unfortunately).

Baozi

“Baozi,” says Waipo, pushing the basket toward the center where we can both reach. A little white napkin unsticks itself from undereneath the bamboo structure.

(Page 329)

Baozi are fluffy steamed buns usually stuffed with pork and/or vegetables. It is one of many foods that are steamed in bamboo or metal baskets. Taiwan is known for its gourmet dumpling restaurant chain Din Tai Fung that specializes in xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. There is one located inside Taipei 101 and several locations have opened in the United States (but not near me, sadly).

Night Markets

The night market feels like a special sort of festival, except Feng tells me it comes alive every night. People walk by holding sweets like shaved ice and red bean ice cream. I see some things I’ve never tried but Dad’s told me about, like stinky tofu, and yellow wheel cakes filled with custard. One stand sells skewers of tiny brown eggs, and other kebabs that look dark and marinated. On the other wise of the crowd, there are stalls lined up in no particular order, some of them peddling trinkets and clothing accessories, others smoky with freshly cooking foods–

“The snacks here are called xiaochi,” says Feng. “That translates to little eats, literally.”

(Pages 223-224)

In most towns or cities in Taiwan, on designated nights (or sometimes every night) of the week, certain streets will close to vehicle traffic (minus motorcycles) and street vendors will set up stalls and carts to sell food, electronics, clothing, accessories and more. You can buy a lot of random things for very cheap at the night market. I usually don’t do anything besides eat the xiaochi, which is sometimes likened to tapas. Scallion pancakes are a must for me, and I also eat jidangao (small cakes usually shaped like cartoon characters), and popcorn chicken (which is nothing like American popcorn chicken and a thousand times better).

Pop Culture

Hello Kitty

Waipo hands me a scrap of paper that was in the box–a pink piece of Hello Kitty stationery.

(Page 82)

Hello Kitty hails from Japan, but she enjoys immense popularity in Taiwan as well. You can find Hello Kitty themed merchandise and decor in many places. Famously, Taiwanese airline Eva Air has a special flight where the entire plane, interior and exterior, is decorated with Hello Kitty. My dad rode one of those flights by chance, but I sadly have not the chance to do so yet. Every time I visit Taiwan, McDonald’s seems to have Hello Kitty toys with their Happy Meal.

Teresa Teng

The name of the singer is Teresa Teng,” says Feng. “Deng Lijun. Have you heard of her?”

“Ni mama zui xihuan,” Waipo says. Your mother’s favorite. She brings over the CD case. The album cover shows a rosy-cheeked woman, her black hair curled and fluffed, the expression on her face soft and demure.

(Page 183)

Teresa Teng is a Taiwanese singer who was immensely popular in Asia in the 70s, 80s, and up until her death in 1995. She sang in multiple languages, including Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Japanese, Indonesian, and English. Her most famous song is “The Moon Represents My Heart” (月亮代表我的心). Google honored her with a Google Doodle celebrating what would have been her 65th birthday on January 29th, 2018.

The Google Doodle of Teresa Teng by Taiwanese American artist Cynthia Yuan Cheng.

Boy Bands

Back at the apartment, Waigong’s lounging on the couch, hogging all the cushions under his back and elbows. He stares into the television, watching a music video with the volume all the way down. A dozen Asian men are dancing in a hexagonal tunnel filled with flashing lights.

(Page 80)

I strongly suspect this is an nod to the popular Korean-Chinese boy band EXO, which formerly had twelve members and whose logo is shaped like a hexagon. Boy bands have a few decades of history in East Asia, and kpop/cpop bands like EXO are popular in Taiwan. Their music videos can be seen on the MTV channel. One of the most famous Taiwanese boy bands is F4, which was formed by the four male stars in Meteor Garden, the Taiwanese drama adaptation of the bestselling Japanese manga Boys Over Flowers. Asian boy band members can often be seen endorsing various lifestyle product brands.

Religion and Spiritual Practices

Temples

Waipo points to the magnificent temple. Sweeping red roofs curve up at their square corners. Stone dragons guard the highest points with open mouths and hooked claws. Fire-bright lanterns hang down from the eaves, strung together like lines of planets, their tassels angling in the wind.

(Page 135)

The majority of Taiwanese people of Han descent practice a blend of Taoist and Buddhist traditions. Temples are found everywhere, with over 20,000 across the island. Most temples follow traditional Chinese architecture and are elaborate structures.

Ghost Month

The book takes place during Ghost Month. According to folk beliefs, the ghosts of the dead are able to cross into the human realm during Ghost Month, which is the seventh month of the lunar calendar used in various parts of Asia, including Taiwan (between August and September of the Gregorian in 2020). Food offerings are left out for the ghosts to satiate their hunger, and incense and joss paper are burned for the dead.

Ghost Weddings

While digging into her family history, Leigh finds out that one of her relatives had a ghost wedding.

The custom of ghost weddings originates in China but is practiced by people in diaspora in Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia. Such marriages can occur between a living person and a dead person or between two dead people. It’s generally more common for these unions to be between a living man and a deceased woman due to patriarchal and heteronormative practices surrounding ancestor worship. Traditionally, daughters are not worshiped by their birth families after they pass away; instead, their spirit tablets are kept with their husband’s family.

In keeping with this tradition, my late mother’s spirit tablet is in the ancestral shrine of my paternal grandfather’s house. Last year, I learned that my paternal grandfather took a ghost bride, who appeared to him in a dream asking him to marry her. He asked around the village and found her family and agreed to the wedding.

Typically, a match is found for a deceased woman by placing a red envelope on the street for an unsuspecting stranger to pick up, as is the case with Fred in The Astonishing Color of After. This practice is also depicted in the Taiwanese drama The Teenage Psychic. I also recommend the Netflix show The Ghost Bride, which takes place in 1890s Malaysia and is based on the novel of the same name by Yangsze Choo.

Burning Items for the Dead

“Your grandparents put this package together, planning to send it. But they changed their minds. Instead, they burned it. The photos and the letters. The necklace, which I mailed to them. They burned all of it.”

(Page 54)

Leigh is given a box that contained items relating to her mother by the mysterious bird. After people die, it’s customary to burn items for the dead to use in the afterlife. Paper money is the most common, but small paper houses with furniture and even cars are also burned at funerals, and in the past decade smart phones have joined the list of amenities for the afterlife.

The 49 Days Between Death and Rebirth

“They’re chanting sutras for the ones who have passed. Especially those still within the forty-nine days. After a person’s death, they have forty-nine days to process their karma and let go of the things that make them feel tied to this life–things like people and promises and memories. Then they make their transition. So the temple will keep each yellow tablet for forty-nine days. After that, they’re burned.”

(Page 143)

This custom of waiting forty-nine days comes from the Bardo Thödol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It’s a period that also gives loved ones time to mourn.


LOOKING FOR MORE DIVERSE BOOKISH GOODNESS? CHECK OUT THE FULL TOUR THE WORLD IN 30 BOOKS SCHEDULE BELOW.

✦ September 1 ✦
Sammie @ The Bookwyrm’s Den – Introduction, Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Leelynn @ Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Dating Makes Perfect

✦ September 2 ✦
Lauren @ Always Me – The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

✦ September 3 ✦
Toya @ The Reading Chemist – Felix Ever After

✦ September 4 ✦
Michelle @ Carry A Big Book – Sharks in the Time of Saviors

✦ September 5 ✦
Shenwei @ READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA – The Astonishing Color of After

✦ September 6 ✦
Maria @ A Daughter of Parchment and Paper – Patron Saints of Nothing

✦ September 7 ✦
Bri @ Bri’s Book Nook – True Friends (Carmen Browne)

✦ September 8 ✦
Bec @ bec&books – Lobizona
Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story – diverse TTT

✦ September 9 ✦
Sienna @ Daydreaming Book Lover – Loveless

✦ September 10 ✦
Kerri @ Kerri McBookNerd – Raybearer

✦ September 11 ✦
Noly @ The Artsy Reader – The Name Jar

✦ September 12 ✦
Jacob @ The Writer’s Alley – Forest of Souls

 September 13 ✦
Keri @ Are You My Book – The Tea Dragon Society

✦ September 14 ✦
Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight – The Space Between Worlds

✦ September 15 ✦
Melissa @ Ramblings of a Jedi Librarian – Girl in Translation

✦ September 16 ✦
Livy @ Shelves of Starlight – Clap When You Land

✦ September 17 ✦
Crystal @ Lost in Storyland – American Born Chinese

✦ September 18 ✦
Lili @ Lili’s Blissful Pages – A Wish in the Dark

✦ September 19 ✦
Leslie @ Books Are The New Black – The Poppy War

✦ September 20 ✦
Noura @ The Perks of Being Noura – Love From A to Z

✦ September 21 ✦
Crini @ Crini’s – A Pale Light in the Black

✦ September 22 ✦
Rachelle @ Rae’s Reads and Reviews – Dear Haiti, Love Alaine

✦ September 23 ✦
Dini @ DiniPandaReads – Wicked As You Wish

✦ September 24 ✦
Madeline @ Mad’s Books – Spin the Dawn

✦ September 25 ✦
Tessa @ Narratess – Brace Yourself

✦ September 26 ✦
Kimberly @ My Bookish Bliss – Truly Madly Royally

✦ September 27 ✦
Rena @ Bookflirting 101 – Anna K: A Love Story

✦ September 28 ✦
Susan @ Novel Lives – Burn the Dark

✦ September 29 ✦
Arina @ The Bookwyrm’s Guide to the Galaxy – A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

✦ September 30 ✦
Maya @ Awesome Reads – Jackpot

Author Interview: Gloria Chao

For Day 5 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, I interviewed Gloria Chao, whose third YA novel, Rent a Boyfriend, releases November 10th, 2020! This is her second time being interviewed on my blog. If you’d like to read the old interview about her debut novel, American Panda, click here.

Rent a Boyfriend

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?

Interview:

Q: How does it feel to have your second novel published? What lessons have you learned since your debut?

It’s such an honor to have two books out in the world. When I started this journey, I barely allowed myself to dream of having one book published, let alone two, and I’m thankful every day that I get to do this job. Thank you to all my readers for helping to make this happen!

Since my debut, I’ve learned to (and am still learning to) focus on the writing. A lot of the publishing journey is out of the author’s control, but the one thing I can control is the work I produce and how I feel about it.

Q: Now that you’re on your way to publishing your third novel, has your writing process changed at all since you were writing your first? If so, how?

My writing process has changed a lot over the years. While my debut required years of rewriting and restructuring, I drafted my third book in two months and the final stayed fairly close to the original. Part of it was because I had to—deadlines—but experience and working with my editor on multiple books also helped me be able to see my story better before I begin writing. Plus, I’ve learned (and again, am still learning) to trust my process more. Before, I used to feel like I had to put words on the page every day, but I actually work best when I spend a lot of time planning, then writing in big spurts. One thing that hasn’t changed is that when I start a new project, I still have that moment of, What’s a book? How have I done this before? And sometimes that can last weeks!

Q: Our Wayward Fate balances the humorous with the serious very well. How did you achieve that balance? Did you have to cut any scenes that felt wrong for the mood you needed?

Thank you so much! With American Panda, I had to do a lot more editing to balance the humorous and serious, and much of my rewriting was figuring out what to cut and what to rework. After putting a lot of time in during the first book, it came easier for Our Wayward Fate. I didn’t end up cutting scenes because of mood, but line edits did consist of amping up certain emotions and tamping down others.

Q: Our Wayward Fate contains quite a bit of funny dialogue and banter. Do you have tips for writing dialogue?

Thank you! I absolutely loved writing the banter between Ali and Chase in Our Wayward Fate. My tip for writing dialogue is to try to imagine the conversation being spoken aloud. I tend to draft dialogue without any tags so that the flow feels a little more natural, and then I go back later and add in who’s talking and what they’re doing. Another tip: even if an idea seems too wacky, write it down anyway and try to find a way to make it work. Sometimes it won’t work and you’ll end up cutting it, but other times it’ll lead to an unexpected and funny joke!

Q: Rent a Boyfriend features fake dating, which is one of many beloved romance tropes. What’s your favorite romance trope?

I love fake dating as well! That’s my favorite trope, and why I was so excited to write Rent a Boyfriend! I am also a fan of forbidden love, which has been an aspect in all three of my books (and, spoiler alert: I like for it to work out in the end!). And I am a huge fan of slow-burn romances. With lots of banter!

Also, I’m thrilled to be a part of an upcoming anthology, FOOLS IN LOVE, which will offer fresh takes on classic romance tropes. It’s edited by the fabulous Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos, and I’ll be writing the oblivious-to-lovers trope. I can’t wait to share that story with you all in 2021!

Q: If Chloe from Rent a Boyfriend had an Instagram account, what would her handle be and what kinds of photos/videos would she post?

Chloe’s Instagram handle would be @SnowyChloe. Even though she’s from Palo Alto (and a large chunk of the book takes place there), she’s a sophomore at the University of Chicago, and Chicago is where she feels most like herself.

She would post photos of herself around the gorgeous UChicago campus: studying at the stunning Mansueto Library (which was the Erudite headquarters in the Divergent movie!); getting boba tea and Kimchi nachos; walking through the Quad full of Gothic architecture resembling Hogwarts; and of course, taking classes at the economics building (Saieh Hall) that resembles a church, which, according to Chloe’s, is “fitting” because of how everyone in the department worships Becker and Friedman.

Q: According to your previous interview with me, like Chloe, you’ve had some experience with being set up with boys by your parents. Do you have any funny/memorable/awkward stories from those experiences to share?

In Rent a Boyfriend, Chloe’s parents want to set her up with their Asian community’s flagship bachelor, and, well, let’s just say I didn’t have to reach far for that storyline. The reasons weren’t exactly the same as in the book, but there is (unfortunately) a lot of truth to what’s written! In real life, my mother hadn’t met the guy she was trying to set me up with, but she knew his parents, and “since they were good, he must be good, too.” I had no interest because I was already dating my now-husband, but even if I wasn’t dating him, I have to say that her endorsement was not the most convincing. 😉

About the Author:

G.Chao--Author PhotoGloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American PandaOur Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend.

Her wayward journey to fiction included studying business at MIT, then becoming a dentist. Gloria was once a black belt in kung-fu and an avid dancer, but nowadays you can find her teaming up with her husband on the curling ice.

AMERICAN PANDA received four starred trade reviews, is a Junior Library Guild Selection and Indie’s Next Pick, and is a Seventeen MagazineBustlePopSugar, Chicago Public Library, and Paste Magazine Best YA Book of 2018.

Author Links:

Website – https://gloriachao.wordpress.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/gloriacchao