Tag Archives: diversity

ARC Review – When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ever since I saw the cover for When Dimple Met Rishi, I knew I wanted to read this book. When I read the synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this book. I had this book super hyped in my head, which is why I think I put off reading it for as long as I did. However, this book didn’t disappoint me! I laughed, I cried, I had many, many feelings throughout the course of it, and I feel like Sandhya Menon is going to be an author watch now.

I loved Dimple from page one. She’s one of those characters with a lot of conviction and determination. She sees herself as a very independent young woman with goals that don’t include marriage right off the bat. Her family wants her to be happy, so they arrange for her to meet with Rishi, a young Indian boy who is on his way to MIT, but has a secret passion for comic book writing.

Both protagonists have strong visions of where they want to be in their lives, but they both also struggle with their family values. It’s part of why I loved the story so much is that both Dimple and Rishi’s troubles felt very raw and real, and Menon gives the reader so much context to what it’s like to be a young Indian-American trying to both love and value yourself, but also respect the wishes of the family. What I also loved is there’s a lot of comedy between the two characters, but their romance blossoms into something that feels very organic. You get a sense that parts of this story were heavily influenced by Bollywood culture, and while that is super noticeable, it doesn’t detract from the kind of romance that Menon is trying to convey between Dimple and Rishi. There’s a lot of skill in finding a balance for this kind of story, and Menon nails it.

I also loved a lot of the supporting characters, and I didn’t feel like they were one note in the slightest. I adored Rishi’s brother, and I loved that he was a typical little brother who also could see how blind his older sibling is. I loved Celia and I thought she was a good counterpart to Dimple’s character in that she keeps her grounded. I LOVED both Dimple and Rishi’s families, particularly Dimple’s family, who made me laugh, smile and you get this huge sense of love from her family.

When Dimple Met Rishi is one of those books that just gives you so many feelings as your reading it, and that is why I loved it so much. It’s the kind of contemporary book that balances so many different aspects of life, but also still manages to craft a romance that is both organic and sweet. If you love romance, this is a book you need to put on your radar ASAP.

ARC Review – That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart

Author: Sheba Karim

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I will be 100% honest: it wasn’t until I had gone to Harper Collins’ Spring Preview that I had even hard of this book. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of buzz surrounding this one, which is a real shame, because it is a fantastic, punchy little book about family, friendship, religion and first love.

At it’s core That Thing We Call A Heart is really about the friendship between Shabnam and her “former” best friend Farah. The two had a falling out when Farah began to proudly start wearing her headscarf to school without consulting Shabnam. This small but significant incident spirals the two best friends into a situation where they learn to be a part for awhile, but converge on how to make their friendship whole again. There is also a romance involving a non-Muslim boy who is interested in Muslim culture, a father obsessed with Urdu romance poetry but doesn’t see his wife, and a mother who has so much love to give yet seems neglected. A lot happens in this tiny novel, and all of it is interesting.

Honestly, my favourite parts of this novel were the moments between Shabnam and Farah. When they were focusing on their friendship you can see the intense chemistry between the two of them and why they were friends in the first place. Sheba Karim does this amazing job of building the relationship between these two best friends and there is a genuine sense of care and compassion coming from both sides. When Farah begins to question Shabnam’s “relationship” with Jamie, she does it from such a caring standpoint, and while it seems like she may be playing devil’s advocate, you get a very genuine vibe from her that she simply wants what is best for Shabnam. Farah was easily my favourite character in this book, as she has such a fantastic and blunt attitude. We need more badass ladies like her in contemporary YA.

I also loved Shabnam, even though she definitely had some moments that were very frustrating. I think Sheba Karim does a great job of capturing a teenager who is head over heels regarding their first love, and you can feel the this sense that Shabnam truly is in love with Jamie throughout the story. It doesn’t feel trite or forced, it feels like teenage lovesickness — realistic and heartbreaking. I will say, I still kinda didn’t get Jamie’s appeal at all in the story, and that is maybe because he’s not the kind of guy I’d dig in the slightest, but I can respect Shabnam’s interest in the guy, and I do appreciate that he was written in a way where he was trying to understand and respect Muslim culture. I thought that aspect of his character was actually very well done.

Can I also say how much I loved Shabnam’s family? There are so many moments that were so funny and toughing between her and her folks. I thought her mum was adorable and sweet, and I loved how caring she is. I also found Shabnam’s father hilarious and I liked that he made no bones about who he is throughout. They felt like read parents, which in YA often is completely unheard of.

I am so glad I was given the chance to read this book, because when it comes to books that feel genuine from start to finish, That Thing We Call A Heart succeeds. I really adored my time with this book, and I felt like I was able to really connect with the characters in this story, even though I don’t share the same culture as them. I felt like I learned so much about Muslim culture and the importance of family, both birth and chosen. There’s a lot of beauty in this book, and the ending definitely left me heartbroken.

Book Chat – Books That Surprised Me

Sometimes when I read a book, I worry I won’t enjoy it. I look at it, read the synopsis, flip through the first few pages, and debate. Surprises can come in a variety of forms — enjoyment, disappointment, disgust, confusion, there’s a lot of emotions to describe when a book can surprise you. Sometimes it’s a plot element, maybe it’s overall enjoyment, it’s hard to gauge why something works or doesn’t work for you. I thought I’d share with you guys a few books that I’ve read that have surprised me in a variety of ways.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie (2007)

If I’m being honest, I had some reservations going into The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, if only because I am Canadian and I am a Canadian who loves Native American Fiction, but also is depressed by Canada’s past towards indiginious peoples. While this novel isn’t about Canada or written by a Canadian, it offers a very important prespective on “native culture” and what it means to be white-washed.

What surprised me about this novel wasn’t the topic, but it was in how I read it. I listened to this on audiobook with Sherman Alexie as the narrator, and at first I didn’t entirely dig his reading voice. In fact, it out right annoyed me at times… yet then as the story grew, his voice grew on me as well. There is an authenticness to the novel in having him read it, and I could feel Arnold’s emotions and struggles in Alexie’s voice and feel it in a way that felt very different then reading words off the page. This book is clever, it’s funny, and it’s downright sad at times. It took me on a surprising emotional journey, and it totally deserves all the awards that it has won.

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The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
by Maggie Stiefvater (2016)

I am going to avoid spoilers for this book given how new it is, but this book was a ball of surprises from start to finish. It’s one of those books where from book one you KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, but you always kept hoping Maggie Stiefvater wouldn’t actually do it. If you’ve read the series, you know what I am talking about, and the way in which she did left me emotionally spent. However, there were other parts of this novel that just surprised me (Chapter 33 is perfect, you guys), and it made me love the novel, its characters and the series a million times more. Sometimes when you know something is supposed to be predictable, author’s will throw a wrench and still manage to surprise the crap out of it.

Maggie: I want my tears back, dammit.

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The Princess in Black series
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (2014-)

You should all not be surprised that a middle grade series is on this list, but let me tell you: The Princess in Black series continues to get better and better with each installment. What surprised me with this series was that I worried I would find it too juvinile at times to enjoy. The child in me loves this series and the adult in me in me keeps wanting to say I shouldn’t enjoy this series, but I do. This is a favourite of mine to recommend to reluctant readers at my the public library I work at, and it’s a fun one to talk up and explain to parents as well. Cheeky and fun, this series is for kids who love adventure, and adults who miss the feeling of being a child again.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
by Jennifer Tseng (2015)

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness was such a mixed bag of a book for me. Meanwhile it focuses on a more taboo subject matter (an adult woman sleeping with a minor), that actually wasn’t the aspect of the book that surprised me, even when it started to get rather heavy. What surprised me was how beautiful the writing was in this book, but how unrealstic and frusrating the plot was for such a beautifully written book. I spent a lot of the novel wanting to scream at Mayumi, and I was certainly annoyed by how literary the boy began to sound despite his distaste for literature. There’s a lot in this book that feels hapharzardly put together and yet I COULDN’T STOP READING IT. This book was such a weird reading experience and it’s one I have a hard time forgetting because I felt so confused and yet so involved in the development of this story.

What are some novels that have surprised you, for better or worse? I’d love to know how others experience “surprising” aspects of a novel and how it affects your reading experience. Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on the subject!

Cultural Accuracy in YA

Lately there has been a big push for more diversity in YA. Non-white main characters, non-American (non-Western) settings, LGBQTI characters, and so on. With that comes the challenge of writing not only diversely, but accurately. Often non gay or non POC authors get flack for not writing their gay or POC characters stereotypical and cliche. And I’m glad that this stuff is being addressed. It’s important that diversity isn’t used as a gimmick.

I take issue with books set in Asia that are not accurate. I’ve run across a few ‘white girl goes to ::insertAsiancountryHERE::’ novels that have thrown me into a rage. It’s a topic that I feel very close to, and I’ve decided to write about it here. I polled twitter and facebook and people are interested, so here we go.

179542_10100696192142385_2114367399_nBefore we get too far I want to say that while I am addressing accuracy in books set in Asia, Japan specifically, I am not an expert on Japan and Asia. I do feel that I am qualified to speak about this topic though because I lived in Japan for seven years. I did one year of study abroad in Tokyo while living with two host families and then after graduation I worked in Japan for another six years. I lived in Tokyo, Saitama, and Ibaraki. I worked for three different English teaching companies. I did my taxes in Japanese. I went to the hospital in Japanese. I got married to a Japanese man and have an extended family still in Japan. I might not still be living in Japan, but I have life experience there (I almost died twice!) Oh, and I have a minor in East Asian Studies. So that’s as far as my “authority” goes.

Japan is a beautiful country, Japanese is a difficult language, and the culture is very different 268770_10100219200966525_3845584_nfrom Western culture. One of the biggest issues I have with some of the YA books set in Japan is that the MC usually acclimates way too quickly. She (so far I’ve only read one book with a male MC) picks up the language in no time and never suffers from culture shock. In Ink, by Amanda Sun, our MC, Katie, moves to Japan to live with her aunt after her mother’s death. Not only is Katie dealing with grieving, she’s suddenly dumped in a new country. And yet she does FINE. We’re lead to believe that the dialogues are all in Japanese (which just was so confusing because it’s all written in English, hence it is a translation of the Japanese being spoken) and there is no way that Katie has mastered Japanese that quickly. In the book she often comments on her poor Kanji skills, but then she’s seen writing emails to her friends in Japanese. And with little trouble. There are a few times when we see her struggling, but her language skills (while not shown in actual Japanese) are pretty flawless. From my own experiences learning Japanese in class and learning Japanese on the street are two different things. When I moved to Japan for study abroad I had studied Japanese for three years in college. When I got there I thought I was the shit and would be able to communicate no problem. Instead I had a horrible time. I struggled so much. I even gave up after awhile. I did have friends that flourished and became very good at Japanese in a short period of time, but even then they weren’t fluent quiet yet. So unless Katie had some amazing secret language genius that the author didn’t let us in on, that was just totally unbelievable to me.

I also take issue with the lack of culture shock most MCs face. In both Ink and Katie M. Stout’s Hello, I Love You! (which was set in South Korea, so I can’t comment much on the Korean culture in this one) the MCs seem to have no trouble leaving their troubled pasts behind and flourishing in these new, unfamiliar places. Katie almost seems to forget about her mother and the most “culture shock” I saw her have was when she couldn’t eat karage (a type of fried chicken using sesame oil) for lunch and had to eat PB&J. Later on this is used to show Katie’s “growth” as she leaves her American-ness behind to embrace her Japanese self or something. It really bothered me that she never had any true culture shock. And not ‘oh this is a weird thing in Japan’ (that is not real culture shock), but the debilitating anxiety that comes before having to go use the ATM or send a package at the post office or get your hair cut. The feeling that it’s probably safer to stay inside where you don’t have to face something in a foreign language. Culture shock that myself and many of my friends faced when first living in Japan. Hello, I Love You‘s MC, Grace,  never even had jet lag, let alone culture shock. This is such a real thing and should be explored! I know that it probably takes away from what the author wanted the story to be about (romance in a foreign land) but it’s just not accurate at all.

574635_10100599906679225_1114244541_nMy number on biggest rage inducing trope in these books is the ‘white girl can’t use chopsticks’ stereotype. But Molly!, you cry, I’m a white girl and I can’t use chopsticks! I’ve tried! Well guess what, you weren’t taught properly. And if you were taught properly, you could do it. It’s NOT hard. And it makes me so mad that people think it is. And it makes me RAGEFULL when this is used to show growth. It’s not growth. When you learn how to use a fork does that show that you’ve really made strides as a person and have really come to accept the land around you? No. (Guess what, Japanese people can use forks! And spoons! And knives!) Also, being judgmental about food. I get that in a lot of these books the MC doesn’t want to go to whatever country they’re going to. They didn’t choose, and I did. But they should still try. I don’t understand the judgement. I recently read Holly Smale’s Geek Girl: Model Misfit. This book takes place in Japan, and it’s probably one of the best YA books set in Japan that I’ve read to date. The MC wants to go to Japan, has some interest, but she’s there as a tourist. She’s not expected to act like someone who’s living there, trying to assimilate. And I loved how fun it was to see Japan the way I saw it when I first went there. And that first time EVERYTHING IS AWESOME feeling isn’t in either Ink or Hello, I Love You! You might think it shouldn’t be in either of those books because both of the MCs are in Japan and Korea following some heavy issues, but I do feel like they should have experience some of that initial I’M HERE euphoria. That’s NATURAL of traveling anywhere (and, also, a stage of real culture shock!). I loved Geek Girl’s wide eyed fun view of Japan. And I loved how freaking accurate all of it was! (some of the Japanese romanizations weren’t 100%, but other than that, so good). I also loved that there was no judging of the food (or anything really).

The best book I’ve read that was set in Asia has to be Listen,
22477286Slowly, by Thaniha Lai. I don’t know much about Vietnam, but this book is about a young girl who’s, I believe, 3rd generation Vietnamese. She has no connection to the country other than it’s where her parents and grandmother are from. She knows maybe five words of Vietnamese, and has no interest in her heritage. She then has to go spend the summer there with her grandmother and the MC suffers culture shock, acceptance, and immersion. She also reconnects with her grandmother and starts to accept and show interest in her heritage. Now, this book doesn’t have a white MC (she is very American/ Western tho), so maybe that’s part of it, but also I believe the author has real experience in Vietnam or with Vietnamese culture. And I feel that therein lies the problem with a lot of these books. While they are researched, they aren’t lived. When I find out that an author didn’t truly LIVE (not stay, not visit, LIVE) in the country they’re writing about (and they claim they did) I can see how it falls into stereotypes and inaccuracies. With Ink I felt like I was reading a manga. With Hello, I Love You I felt like I was reading a Kdrama. When your source material is already fiction it’s difficult to construct your own accurate fiction.

Anyways, these are just a few thoughts I have on this topic (I have more!) and in no way is this post intended to attack the books and authors mentioned. I believe that the authors tried their best, but at the same time could have done better to keep things more accurate. I am not critiquing the stories or the writing, only the inaccurate portrayals of what it’s like to be a foreigner (specifically a western female) living abroad in an Asian country.

295113_10100599907248085_553024258_nFeel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments and let’s have a dissuasion! Also, I’m interested in hearing about if you have any experience with books set in countries that you have experience in! For example, I’ve had a few British friends have trouble with Anna and the French Kiss! I’d love to know more about the inaccuracies that take place in books set in other countries as well!

ARC Review – The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris

8477401Title: The Perfect Place

Author: Teresa E. Harris

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Treasure’s dad has disappeared and her mom sets out to track him down, leaving twelve-year-old Treasure and her little sister, Tiffany, in small-town Virginia with their eccentric, dictatorial Great-Aunt Grace. GAG (as the girls refer to her) is a terrible cook, she sets off Treasure’s asthma with her cat and her chain smoking, and her neighbors suspect her in the recent jewel thefts. As the hope of finding their dad fades, the girls and their great-aunt begin to understand and accommodate one another. When a final dash to their dad’s last known address proves unsuccessful, Treasure has to accept that he’s gone for good. When she goes back to Great-Aunt Grace’s, it is the first time she has returned to a place instead of just moving on. Convincing, fully realized characters, a snarky narrative voice, and laugh-aloud funny dialogue make The Perfect Place a standout among stories of adjustment and reconfigured families.

Huge thank you to Clarion Books and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really wanted to like this book more than I did, and the beginning did keep me invested. But once I’d put the book down, I found I never found myself going back to it. I’d read a chapter… once a week? There’s just something about this book that just never took hold of my full attention.

Truth be told, The Perfect Place is a decent novel, but it’s one that really depends on the reader’s participation and whether or not they enjoy a lot of the challenges that are faced by Treasure and Tiffany. Thing is, both Treasure and Tiffany are wonderfully sympathetic characters, but I guess for me I was expecting a bit more than a lot of woes me. However, I found the characters pretty flat, with the exception of Auntie Grace, who for whatever reason I quite enjoyed. She was a bit too religious for my tastes, but she won me over when she dealt with the mean girls within the story. That, admittedly, was brilliantly done.

Then there’s the writing. It’s good, but nothing fantastic and in fact, it’s quite ordinary and plain. The writing was at it’s best when it was slathered in emotion, but at its worse when exposition was happening. I DO adore the fact that this is a diverse novel with two African-American heroines and I loved that they do persevere, but I wanted more from this story, and considering it took awhile for me to get into it, and to the point where I kept forgetting about it? That just isn’t a good sign for me.

I think a lot of the messages in this novel are great and I do think that this book will be quite loved by a reader who can instantly connect with Treasure and her family. For me, I wanted that connection, it’s just a shame (for me) that it never took hold. This is a good book (hence three starts), but I needed more of a solid connection between me, the characters and the writing. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as well as I wanted it to.