Tag Archives: weneeddiversebooks

ARC Review – American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda

Author: Gloria Chao

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Huge thank you to Simon Teen Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

American Panda has a misleading cover. From first glance, it seems like this book would be a cute, fluffy read — and it is in parts. This book also at times takes a bit of a darker tone, which is rather unexpected. Even with that tonal shift at times, I happily want to recommend this book.

This book follows the story of Mei, a Taiwanese-American girl who has very strict parents. Her family wants her to be a doctor, marry someone who is Taiwanese and also aspiring to a similar career. Under no circumstances is Mei allowed to date someone who is not Taiwanese or approved by her parents. In fact, her parents already have Mei’s life plotted out for her.

This was such a difficult read for me at times as I found myself sympathizing with Mei a lot. I recognize that I am not Asian and have never had this experience, but I was a former ESL teacher whose main clientele were all Asian, and on numerous occasions I would have conversations with my students about their home lives and parent’s expectations. It broke my heart a lot of the time given many of the teens I dealt with just wanted to be understood by their parents, and you definitely see that here with Mei. She wants her parents approval, but she still also wants to be her own individual with her own choices being made. There is a huge tug-and-pull between following traditions and choosing your path in this story, and it makes for an interesting story, if one I’ve heard many times before.

Some of my favourite parts of this book were Mei’s interactions with her disowned brother, Xing. Xing and Mei’s re-connection is one of the strongest parts of this story as it gives you a lot of insight into just how important certain traditions to older generations. Being Italian, I oddly can understand this given many Italian parents only want their children to marry other Italians. I really just loved how close the siblings became given the circumstances involving Xing’s becoming disgraced.

One area where this book didn’t quite work for me was some of the humour. I found it to be pretty hit-or-miss, and oddly found myself loving the book more when it was about the family relationships and less about Mei’s interest in Darren (though I’ll admit, they were very cute!). I really felt for Mei’s mother in the story, regardless of how overbearing she was.

American Panda is a story I’ve read before, but one I still very much enjoyed. I found Mei’s perspective very informative and her feelings were completely worn on her sleeve. She’s a girl I definitely found myself connecting with even though our circumstances are so different. Don’t let this fluffy, cheerful cover fool you — Gloria Chao doesn’t shy away from punching the reader in the feelings.

Advertisements

ARC Review – Sound (Salvage #2) by Alexandra Duncan

24202895Title:  Sound

Author: Alexandra Duncan

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: SOUND is the stand-alone companion to Alexandra Duncan’s acclaimed novel Salvage, a debut that internationally bestselling author Stephanie Perkins called “kick-ass, brilliant, feminist science fiction.” For fans of Beth Revis, Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica.

As a child, Ava’s adopted sister Miyole watched her mother take to the stars, piloting her own ship from Earth to space making deliveries. Now a teen herself, Miyole is finally living her dream as a research assistant on her very first space voyage. If she plays her cards right, she could even be given permission to conduct her own research and experiments in her own habitat lab on the flight home. But when her ship saves a rover that has been viciously attacked by looters and kidnappers, Miyole—along with a rescued rover girl named Cassia—embarks on a mission to rescue Cassia’s abducted brother, and that changes the course of Miyole’s life forever.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

Last year I read Salvage by Duncan and I fell in LOVE with it. It was one of my top reads of the year. So I was so excited when I saw that she had a companion novel coming out this year! Sound takes place 20 years after Salvage. You do NOT have to have readSalvage to understand Sound. There are some crossover characters, and Miyole, our MC in this, is an important character in Salvage, but you can read this and understand it on it’s own.

One thing that I can’t help but ask is HOW ARE NOT MORE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS BOOK!? We have a queer bi-cultural person of color in this incredibly strong feminist sci-fi novel and I’ve hardly heard a thing about it! Come on guys! Miyole is Haitian by blood but she grew up in the Pacific ocean on basically a trash barge until it got blown away and then she moved to India with her adoptive sister Ava. This happened in Sound, but we get to see the results of this in Sound. Being Haitian means nothing to Miyole without her mother there to tell her stories about her native land. Instead Miyole, who is working on a deep sound research ship, struggles with her cultural identity. She doesn’t look ethnically Indian, but she grew up in India. I LOVED when Miyole was dressed in a sari and the Indian crew members commented on her effort to understand their culture. I could relate to her feelings and displacement SO WELL after having spent so much time in Japan, trying to fit in and be accepted and just not.

I also enjoyed how Miyole is unflinching in her sexuality. She doesn’t struggle with it and when she starts to fall for someone she goes for it. This is Miyole’s downfall at times, her heart speaks loudly and her brain doesn’t always catch up. But this is what got the story going, a beautiful girl and her family get their ship blown up, the brother gets captured, and Miyole takes off on a quest to save him.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this was the unique mix of cultures. It does take place in the far future, so it’s not surprising that cultures would blend and mix in such interesting ways once they leave the earth. I really enjoyed the mix of Japanese culture and language into this.

I also really liked how the pacing of this was so much different from Salvage. That takes place over a very long span of time, and it’s almost operatic. This is a much more contained story. I thought it was a nice juxtaposition against it’s predecessor.

Overall I really enjoyed this (maybe not as much as Salvage) and hope that it gets more recognition. It’s a very well done story that weaves important issues into it without coming off as cliche or overkill, and it’s a fun scifi that will keep you up late at night (as it did me!)

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!