Monthly Archives: December 2016

#DiversityBingo2017 TBR and Book Suggestions

With a new year on its way, I’m renewing my commitment to reading diverse books. Here’s one of the reading challenges that I’ll be tackling. The goal is to fill all of the squares on the board by reading a book that corresponds to the square. You can show your participation and track other people’s progress with the hashtag #diversitybingo2017 on Twitter. Aside from being a year-long challenge as opposed to a month-long one like #DiversityDecBingo, #DiversityBingo2017 encourages reading #ownvoices books (books where the author shares the same marginalization[s] as the main character).

Although not all of the squares are marked as #ownvoices, I’m striving to read #ownvoices for as many as possible. Below is the board, plus my picks for my bingo TBR and some suggestions for people who are looking for books to read. For books that are being released in 2017 and have set release dates, I have put the [U.S.] release month/date in parentheses. Books listed under categories that aren’t designated as #ownvoices on the board will be labeled with #ownvoices where applicable. For books that I’ve reviewed, I’ve linked my review.

In the case where I couldn’t find [m]any #ownvoices books, I’ve included some non-#ownvoices books that I’ve done my best to curate based on recommendations and reviews by people who belong to the community/identity represented.

If I am mistaken about any book being #ownvoices or you have seen (from your own reading or from reviews calling out) problematic representation in any of these books, ¬†or you have more detailed info on any MC’s ethnic background (I tried to be as specific as possible based on the information I could find), or any other errors, please let me know so I can correct and update my list! Thanks!

I did my best to include books across different genres, media, and target age group, so hopefully there’s something for everyone here. If you are looking for more places to find books for the challenge, I recommend checking out the links on my Resources page.

Hope you join the challenge, and happy reading! ūüôā

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Continue reading #DiversityBingo2017 TBR and Book Suggestions

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Favorite Books of 2016

Well, it’s the beginning of a new year, so I’m listing¬†my favorites out of the books I read (for the first time) in 2016. Most¬†of them were¬†published in 2016, but not all of them were. These are sorted into YA, MG, and NA/Adult and listed in order alphabetically by author’s last name. For the books I’ve reviewed, I’ve linked the review. For the others, there’s a brief summary/recommendation, and I’ll eventually post a full-length review for them.¬†Books marked with an asterisk (*) are #ownvoices books.

Of course, since I’ve been focusing my energies on reading books by Asian authors and to a lesser extent, other marginalized authors, my sample is skewed. Also, there are so many 2016 releases that are sitting on my TBR still, so this is not meant to be any sort of objective survey of all 2016 releases, just my favorites out of what I managed to read during the course of the year. Without further ado, here you go!

Young Adult

The Reader by Traci Chee* – I’m so excited for the sequel, The Speaker, which has an expected release date of September 12th, 2017. The Diverse Science Fiction/Fantasy Book Club has chosen The Reader as its book of the month for January 2017, so keep an eye on the #DSFFBookClub tag on Twitter¬†on January 31st for a book discussion. ūüôā

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia*

Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2) by Intisar Khanani – This is the second book in the Sunbolt Chronicles, which was intended to be a novella serial until Book 2 became bigger than expected. The Sunbolt Chronicles feature Hitomi, a resourceful heroine with penchant for getting herself into trouble while trying to do good and play hero. If you’re looking for diverse fantasy, check out Sunbolt¬†(Book 1) and Memories of Ash! (I’ll be reviewing both eventually.)

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury*

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina*

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee*

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee*

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older* – If that cover hasn’t won you over, I don’t know what will. Daniel Jose Older has reclaimed urban fantasy for the people it truly belongs to: black and brown POC. This book isn’t just fluffy fantasy, it gets real about racism, covering gentrification, police brutality, colorism, and cultural appropriation (and probably more, but that’s what I can remember). Sierra Santiago is Afro-Latina, and her powers as a shadowshaper are grounded in her Caribbean, Puerto Rican heritage. Her magic calls on her ancestors and transforms paintings, music, and stories into extraordinary works brimming with life. I have the companion novella,¬†Ghost Girl in the Corner, on my Kindle waiting to be read, and I’m looking forward to the sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, which has an expected release date of September 12th, 2017.

Sacrifice (Sequel to Serpentine) by Cindy Pon*

Timekeeper by Tara Sim

The King of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief #3) by Megan Whalen Turner – I’d heard amazing things about Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series for a while but didn’t get around to reading it until earlier in 2016. Full of high-stakes quests, political intrigue, and memorable characters, these books have left a deep impression on me. Also, I think I just like thief characters a lot, haha. The fifth book, Thick as Thieves, has an expected release date of May 16th, 2017.

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon*

Middle Grade

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung*

When the Sea Turned to Silver (Companion/Sequel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky) written and illustrated by Grace Lin* – I was first introduced to Grace Lin’s books through The Year of the Dog, which I love dearly. I had a long reading slump from 2011-2015, so when I found out she had written 2 books for a fantasy series set in an alternate ancient China, I knew I had to read them. Then this third book was announced and I was super ecstatic because I left behind the first two hoping for more. Weaving together Chinese folktales and myths with her own original storytelling, Grace Lin creates memorable, enchanting tales about young protagonists learning and growing. Like her contemporary novels, WtMMtM and sequels use stories-within-stories to enrich the narrative. Familiar characters show up across all three books, sometimes where you’re not expecting them. Each chapter has its own custom header illustration by Grace Lin herself, and the text is interspersed with gorgeous full-color illustrations. In short, these books are truly works of Art. I’ll post a more detailed review later. ūüôā

Saving Kabul Corner (Companion to Shooting Kabul) by N.H. Senzai – Set several years after the events of Shooting Kabul, Saving Kabul Corner focuses on Afghan American pre-teen Ariana. Ariana is a tomboy and feels like she has nothing in common with her feminine and traditional cousin Laila, who has just arrived in California from Afghanistan and is sharing a room with her for the time being. However, the two girls are forced to set aside their differences in order to unravel a mystery that has revived a generations-old feud with the family who has opened up a rival Afghan grocery market. This book celebrates female friendship and the resourcefulness of young people and makes for a suspenseful and fun read.

Ticket to India by N.H. Senzai*

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor*

George by Alex Gino – We need more trans characters written by trans authors, and George is a welcome addition to trans kidlit. The story is about a trans girl (birth name George, chosen name Melissa) who wants to play the part of Charlotte in her school’s theater production of Charlotte’s Web. Unfortunately, her school’s policing of gender means that she’ll have to be sly about making this wish come true. With the help of her best friend Kelly, she may just get the role and show her true self to the world. A quick but engaging read.

New Adult/Adult

lf at the Door by J. Damask*

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn* – Since Hollywood continues to disappoint us as far as Asian/Asian American superheroes go, Heroine Complex makes up for that by giving us not one, but TWO kickass Asian American superheroines. Evie Tanaka is used to playing the trusty sidekick to her best friend Aveda Jupiter (a.k.a Annie Chang), San Francisco’s local superhero and media darling. Aveda does the ass-kicking, and Evie handles the details, social media, public relations, branding, and so on. Unfortunately, the universe has other plans in mind for Evie, and a mysterious increase in demon attacks with a different manifestation than the usual pattern forces Evie to step up and take on a front-and-center role, testing her patience and control. Her latent firepower has been repressed for years, so she has to master them before she blows her top and lets loose a destructive inferno that could hurt more than just the demons she’s hunting. Juggling female friendship, sisterly bonds and troubles, unexpected sexy romance (warning: there are some intense makeout/sex scenes), and personal growth on top of action and mystery, Heroine Complex has it all. I’m pumped for the sequel, Heroine Worship, which set to release on July 4th, 2017.

Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan*

Review for Wolf at the Door by J. Damask

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

Note 2: I’m reviewing the book based on the 2016 edition published by Gerakbudaya, the regional publisher.

My Summary: Jan Xu is part of a clan of Singaporean Chinese Lang, or wolf-people, and an ex-vigilante who fought against supernatural beings run amok in the city. In recent years, she’s settled into a life as a mother of two children. However, that life is threatened when her estranged sister, Marianne, comes back to visit with a new boyfriend in tow. Jan’s instincts tell her that this boyfriend is dangerous, and Marianne is behaving strangely as well. Something is amiss, and Jan may be the one who has to set things right.

Review:

I’ve been feeling the dearth of Southeast Asian fiction in mainstream U.S. publishing, so I remedied that by¬†finding indie and self-published writers from Southeast Asia. The first I came upon happened to be Joyce Chng (J. Damask is a pen name she uses), so I put her stuff on my TBR. Wolf a the Door is my first exposure to her writing, and it’s a great place to start. Urban paranormal fantasy with Asian werewolves set in Singapore? Bring it.

I’ll just note here at the beginning that there were some typos here and there that should be fixed if the book gets republished. There were also a few places where the language felt off, but since I’m not familiar with English dialects outside of Standard American English, I can’t really say for sure whether they were grammatical errors or just dialect differences. It wasn’t major enough that it caused any problems in reading comprehension, so it’s not a huge black mark or anything. Just thought I’d note it for the sake of being thorough.

Now, to the actual content. One of things that really got me excited was that right off the bat, the narrative acknowledges the multicultural landscape of Singapore. A lot of times fantasy doesn’t really make room for cultures other than the dominant one (read as: white culture, in the case of fantasy set in the U.S.), so it’s nice to see fantasy that shows the coexistence and interactions of different mythologies and folklores. From naga people to apsaras to fox women and fairies and vampires, the different ethnic groups that live Singapore all have their own supernatural beings that live among the regular humans and mingle with one another. These beings are referred to as Myriad.

You can’t understand the urban landscape of any cosmopolitan city like Singapore without acknowledging history, particularly migration and the formation of diasporas. In Wolf at the Door, diaspora and migration history are as much a part of Jan’s identity as they are for normal humans, which lends a heightened sense of realism to the worldbuilding. Her identity as Lang is contextualized and linked to her Chinese heritage. Her celebration of holidays with family carry meaning for her not only as a diasporic Chinese but also as Lang. Mid-Autumn Festival for Chinese werewolves? I love it.

This is probably a personal thing for me as someone who speaks two Chinese languages (Taiwanese Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien), but all the instances of code-switching in the book made me happy. People who don’t know any better think of Chinese language and culture as a monolith, but there are so many regional/linguistic differences, and so-called Chinese dialects are rarely mutually intelligible. Mandarin may be the most widely spoken Chinese language, but a large number of diasporic Chinese across the globe are from the southeast, particularly Guangdong and Fujian, so they speak languages like Cantonese, Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka, etc. Hokkien is the most commonly spoken language in Taiwan after Mandarin, and the same is true in Singapore, so it was cool to find connections to the story through the use of Hokkien. I saw ang ku kueh mentioned and freaked out and got a craving for them. (They’re red tortoise cakes, made with glutinous rice¬†flour and sweet filling, often red bean paste.)

It was also nice to have a story where nonwhite people are the majority because it’s easier to decenter whiteness. In fact, the main antagonist is a white British guy, and I was like yes! Because let’s be real, white British guys are romanticized in media a lot despite their role in being the face of colonizers to about half the world. The appeal of the British accent (Received Pronunciation, to be specific) and mannerisms has everything to do with power and prestige and little to do with the inherent superiority of Britishness.

One of the prominent themes of the book was hybrid identity, which carries a double meaning for Jan because not only she is part of a diaspora that has mixed with other cultures, she is also a werewolf living among humans. The werewolf aspect brings a very visceral element to that hybridity. The authors description captures with a vivid and poetic precision the feeling of being a wolf who sometimes wears a human skin.

Race and analogies of race become an issue in the story because the antagonist is advocating for the “purity” and dominance of wolves, with gross eugenic implications as it concerns mating and breeding for werewolves and their relationships with humans. Thankfully, the grossness of the idea is directly called out within the narrative.

Aside from issues of race and species, the book also focuses on family ties, which are central to Chinese and Lang culture, and Jan’s friendships with other Myriad. The narration alternates between past and present, connecting the dots between events and people, cause and effect. These flashbacks provide insight into Jan’s growth into the person she is at the beginning of the narration. Although the Myriad are not really human, they ares still people, with the emotional depth and psychological complexity of humans. Their lives don’t just revolve around their supernatural forms and powers; they also have more “mundane” lives and concerns: careers, hobbies, relationships, and so on. This balance between the magical and mundane was something I really liked about the story.

Jan’s identity as a mother and middle aged woman is refreshing, as it’s usually young people in their prime who get the spotlight and the heroic arc. You could say that she used to be the archetypal YA heroine, but has since matured and settled down. However, that doesn’t preclude her being a compelling protagonist or a person capable of heroism. It’s just that her perspective and motivations are different from those of a teenager. She is a refutation of the idea that marriage and motherhood make women weak sideshows to men or cannot coexist with depth, individuality, and agency.

The one thing that bothered me was the ableism that popped up a few times. Although depression was treated with greater sensitivity, psychosis wasn’t as much. There was a link made between schizophrenia and ideological fanaticism. Although schizophrenia does lead to paranoia and delusional thinking, having schizophrenia doesn’t make you evil. You can be paranoid and delusional without being bigoted and violent. Unfortunately, the equation of mental illness and moral depravity is pervasive, so scapegoating mental illness is common.

Recommendation: If you’re tired of lily-white werewolves and the idea that nonwhite people are less relatable and less human that mythical creatures, Wolf at the Door is the book for you, killing two birds with one stone, and then some.

P.S. The cover art is gorgeous. There are two different images, one on the front cover and one on the back. I wish publishing had more of these kinds of illustrations, drawn from scratch and really specific to the details of the book’s setting, characters, genre, etc., instead of stock photo manipulation that only vaguely captures the essence of the story.

Review for Exo by Fonda Lee

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

Note 2: My review is based on the text in the ARC that I received in exchange for an honest review. The book will be go on sale on January 31st, 2017 and is published by Scholastic Press.

My Summary: It’s been over a century since the alien zhree colonized Earth. Donovan Reyes is the son of the Prime Liaison, the one of the highest positions that a human can hold in the colonial government. He has the benefits of erze status that sets him apart from most humans and has been through bioenhancement that equips him with an exocel, which acts as armor and weapon alike. However, his stable life and bright future as a government security officer is thrown into chaos when he is kidnapped by an anti-zhree revolutionary organization, Sapience. All of a sudden he is a bargaining chip in a political crisis and must find away to escape with his life.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book.

The worldbuilding is great, with the right amount of detail to breathe life into the political system, social stratification, and scientific advancements that shape life on this future Earth. People of color actually exist (it’s sad that this is a remarkable thing because POC are so often erased in scifi) and they aren’t “othered,” they’re just there, being people.

In terms of plot, this book is filled with twists and turns, action and suspense, climax and denouement. The stakes are high on both a personal and big picture level for Donovan, so I was invested in everything that happens.

The action and suspense are balanced by character growth, relationship developments, and thought-provoking themes. Donovan’s worldview is challenged by the things he learns from Sapience. The book explores his complicated relationships with each of his parents, who stand on opposite sides of an ideological conflict. Multiple times, he’s forced to make tough calls on who to defend, who to side with, and the bigger question of whether “peace” among humans is worth the cost of their freedom.

Despite the gray areas presented, however, I found it difficult to sympathize with Donovan for various reasons. One of the biggest ones is that he’s part of a privileged class that reaps the bulk of the benefits of the alien colonizers’ regime, so of course he’s more inclined to think of the zhree as good for humanity.

Also, I also can’t help but make connections to real life political situations, in which colonizing powers rationalize their subjugation of indigenous peoples through the “we brought them technological advancement; they’re less civilized” argument. There was nothing stopping them from introducing technology through equal cultural exchange except greed and ruthless, self-serving ambition. The idea that any culture is inferior to another is based on racist (in this case, speciesist) standards of evaluation and serves as a convenient rationalization of subjugation.

I don’t believe the so-called benefits of colonization can erase the violence that it perpetrates. Superficial peace isn’t justice. Branding anti-colonial movements as terrorism is a dangerous twisting of reality that ignores the violence of colonization itself. Although Donovan comes to understand Sapience and its members and ideology better, and he does genuinely care about the future of humanity, it still feels like he clings to his internalized zhree colonial mindset.

The ¬†other major issue was the cis/heteronormativity. You’d think a futuristic book would feature more queerness and all, given all the gains we’ve made in recent years toward visibility and acceptance, but there is a glaring absence of any non-cishet characters. I’ve gotten to a point where any speculative fiction set in the future that doesn’t have LGBTQ+ characters reads like a dystopia to me because it implies either we’re all dead/locked away out of sight/mind or we’re all deeply closeted out of fear–or both. Given that we’re at a flashpoint in history regarding LGBTQ+ rights, this erasure, however unintentional it may be, is honestly upsetting to me.

There was also this low-key sexism toward Donovan’s love interest, Anya, who was initially described as “too young and pretty” to be a terrorist…like, what? What does your age or physical appearance have anything to do with your political ideology…? I also didn’t really buy the romance that happened; it felt rushed and forced. I could sort of see why Donovan liked Anya because she’s loyal, brave, passionate, and caring, but I didn’t really get what Anya saw in him given how arrogant/disdainful, self-righteous, and privileged he acted around the Sapience members at the beginning. Thankfully the romance wasn’t the focus of the story.

The last thing I didn’t really like was the ending. I can appreciate open endings if they’re executed well, but the ending here left me unsatisfied. There were too many questions left dangling. As far as I know, this is a standalone novel, but it feels like there should be a sequel to resolve those loose ends. But maybe that’s just me.

ETA: I just found out that there’s a sequel coming, so I guess I’ll actually get some closure. I am planning to read it when it is released.

Recommendation: It was an entertaining story, just not quite the diverse/inclusive scifi that I was looking for.

Books and Authors on My TBR that I REALLY Need to Read Sometime Soon

So even as fast as I read, there are books that I haven’t gotten around to even though I’ve had them on my TBR list and/or on my actual bookshelf for a while (like, over a year in some cases).

The top of the list would be various POC who write adult SFF. I’m mostly a YA person, I guess because adult lit bores me a lot of the time (though I may just be biased because we spent so much of secondary school reading adult lit “classics,” i.e. books by long-dead, cishet white dudes). Maybe I just like escapism but speculative fiction, particularly fantasy, is my favorite genre. I don’t have anything against contemporary/realistic fiction, and I read a decent amount of it (for the POC representation! Also school life romcoms are fun), but SFF is what I live and breathe.

These are the adult SFF authors I need to read:

  • Nnedi Okorafor – She writes both YA and adult SFF, and I’m about to read Akata Witch very soon for #DiversityDecBingo, but I need to get into her other books too. I own most of them already.
  • N.K. Jemisin – I own all of her books except The Obelisk Gate and I need to read them. The covers are gorgeous.
  • Ken Liu – I read his short story, Paper Menagerie, a while ago and I was like ;__; and then when I found out that the Grace of Kings+sequels are a wuxia-style series I was like “sign me up yesterday,” but also it’s really hella long so I put it off. One of my friends said his writing is kinda dry, but we’ll see how I feel once I get to reading it.
  • Yoon Ha Lee – I found out about his existence through a short story anthology that he was included in that I bought, and I was like “whoa Asian writing adult SFF, cool!” But I haven’t read said short story yet. Conservation of Shadows and Ninefox Gambit are sitting on my wishlist.
  • Daniel Jose Older – I LOVED Shadowshaper, his YA debut, and can’t wait for the sequel. I have the first two books of the Bone Street Rumba series (adult urban fantasy) on my shelf. The covers feature kickass POC. Just need to read them.
  • Kate Elliott – I have the ebooks of the Jaran Series and physical copies of the Crown of Stars series, The Spiritwalker Trilogy, and The Crossroads Trilogy. Haven’t read them. Also have Court of Fives, her YA novel, so I’m starting with that one because YA.

For YA, here are a few I’ve put off for Reasons:

  • Adaptation and Inheritance by Malinda Lo – I loved Ash and Huntress, so I put these two on my TBR once I knew they existed. And then left them there…possibly because they’re scifi, which I don’t like as much as fantasy, and also because the main character is white (I just outed myself as a reverse racist, didn’t I? Just kidding). But she’s bisexual and one of the love interests is an Asian American dude so I should really, actually, read this series. Especially while waiting on Malinda Lo’s upcoming A Line in the Dark, which is a YA thriller with an Asian American protagonist.
  • Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – I’m about to read Six of Crows for #DiversityDecBingo, actually, but despite knowing about its existence I put it off. The author is white, and I felt kind of meh about The Grisha Trilogy. But then I found out that the new series features a diverse cast of characters, so I was like “I’ll give this one a shot.” If I don’t like it then it’ll be a waste because I paid full price for the books and got them signed and personalized at the Texas Teen Book Festival a few months ago.
  • Gates of Thread and Stone and The Infinite by Lori M. Lee – I have no excuse for this considering it’s fantasy by an Asian American author. Shame on me.
  • The Penryn and the End of Days Trilogy by Susan Ee – I knew the author is Korean, but I didn’t realize that Penryn was Asian until I read a description of her on Wikia or something. Bumping it up for #ownvoices.

Review for The Stone Goddess by Minfong Ho

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

My Summary: Nakri is trained in classical Cambodian dance and idolizes her older sister who dances like a goddess. However, her family’s life in Phnom Penh is disrupted when the Khmer Rouge takes over. They evacuate their home in the capital, but they are soon separated, with Nakri, her sister, and her brother going to a labor camp. The family reunites to flee to a refugee camp on the border withThailand before finally emigrating to the U.S., where Nakri must learn to cope with the new environment and the trauma of her past.

Review:

I found this book at a used book store, which is a prime location for scouring the shelves in search of old/obscure books by Asian authors. The cover illustration captivated me and I was excited to find a book featuring a Cambodian character because they’re rare in fiction.

Based on the synopsis, I knew this story was going to be an emotional one. It is dark, as a book about genocide and refugees inevitably is. Nakri suffers many losses: the comfort of her home and all that’s familiar, her material possessions, her family, her sense of faith. She becomes physically malnourished and fatigued and emotionally numb during her time in the labor camp.

However, the darkness is balanced by bursts of light and hope. Her older sister continues to dance in secret, even though it is forbidden by the overseers. Her sister also tells stories and legends and shares memories with her so they won’t forget their past life. Her brother sneaks food to her, looking after her even though they are not supposed to have family, only comrades, under the Khmer Rouge’s law. The volunteers at the refugee camp show her kindness, as do her family’s American sponsors.

Nakri’s spirituality takes a blow as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s takeover. In an effort to stamp out the old culture, the Khmer Rouge destroys a statue of the Buddha and bans the classical dance that was intimately tied to their religion and the gods. After the Khmer Rouge is defeated and she leaves behind that oppressive environment, Nakri is free to dance again. However, the dance and music carries with it a lot of emotional baggage, so she must find healing before she can find the inspiration to dance again.

The author has a knack for describing dance, both the physical and emotional aspects of it. When I read it, I felt connected to something greater than myself. In general, I was immersed in Nakri’s experiences, both the beautiful and the ugly, and I was surprised that the author wasn’t a Cambodian refugee herself. However, she does have a personal tie and experience with the real life events that inspired the book. She grew up next door to everything, in Thailand, and volunteered at a refugee camp in 1980, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Her own family also experienced displacement due to political turmoil, so she writes from a place of deep empathy.

In January, I’m planning to read an #ownvoices book about the Cambodian genocide, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. I also have two middle grade #ownvoices books by a Cambodian American author, Many Ly, on my TBR List, so stay tuned for reviews of those.

Recommendation: It might be a bit hard to find this book since it’s a bit old (from 2003), but if you can, go read it. It’s a great book for middle grade readers; Nakri is 12 at the beginning of the book and is 16 or 17 by the end, but the content of the book is fine for younger readers.

Dumbledore’s Army Readathon TBR

I’m planning to participate in a Harry Potter themed readathon for the first two weeks of January, from the 1st to the 15th. It’s being hosted by Aentee at Read at Midnight. Basically, you join a Hogwarts House, pick your books based on the seven different spell prompts, and then read the books to earn points for your House. There are ways to earn extra points that are listed in the link above.

My Hogwarts House is Ravenclaw!

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My Book Picks for Each Prompt

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My Pick: Lightspeed Magazine’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue, Guest Edited by Daniel Jose Older

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My favorite genre is fantasy, no competition. It’s so hard to find SFF by POC that I’m super excited to read an entire anthology dedicated to fantasy by POC. I actually backed the original Kickstarter campaign to make it (as well as POC Destroy Science Fiction! and POC Destroy Horror!) happen, and the original goal was to fund the SciFi issue with the Fantasy issue as a stretch goal. I’m glad that the Fantasy stretch goal was reached because now I have two speculative fiction anthologies to read. ūüôā

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My Pick: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

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This book takes place during the Cambodian civil war and genocide. It’s not often you see Cambodian characters in fiction. Cambodian Americans are among the most marginalized ethnic groups under the Asian American umbrella. Because the majority of first generation Cambodian Americans were refugees, they did not have the elite backgrounds of the Asian immigrants who came under the provisions of the 1965 Immigration Act that gave preference to highly educated immigrants. On average, Cambodian Americans have lower rates of higher education completion, higher rates of poverty, etc. Most of what I know about Cambodian history is from my Asian American studies classes, plus documentaries I watched in 2015 and 2016: The Killing Fields of Haing S. Ngor, directed by Arthur Dong and New Year Baby, directed by Socheata Poeuv. This will be my first #ownvoices book by a Cambodian author.

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My Pick: When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai

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Larissa Lai is a Chinese Canadian author, and I’ve had her two novels, Salt Fish Girl and When Fox is a Thousand, on my TBR forever. I bought them in summer of 2015, but my TBR pile is so enormous that I just never got around to them. When Fox Is A Thousand features a fox spirit, and since I love the mythology surrounding fox spirits in Chinese folklore, I knew I had to read this book.

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My Pick: Dove Arising by Karen Bao

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This is another book I’ve had sitting on my TBR forever. It’s a YA scifi novel set in the future, when humans have colonized the moon. The main character is of Chinese descent, but the story isn’t about her being Chinese, which is cool. Her mother gets arrested, and all of a sudden her plans for the future get thrown into disarray.

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My Pick: Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi

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Also had this on my TBR for a while. It’s a historical fiction novel that begins in the 1940s and spans decades, telling the story of a young Indian girl who chooses to flee her marriage and begin a life at an ashram (a monastery). There, she becomes a part of a family of women who are outcasts.

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My Pick: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

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I just bought this book a week or two ago. I can’t wait to actually read it since it’s been on my radar a long time. It’s a fantasy book set in an alternate Regency era England where there’s a society dedicated to maintaining the magic of the kingdom. It features POC as main characters, which is great because a lot of people seem to think POC sprang up circa 1965 when we’ve been around forever.

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My Pick: Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

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I’ve found out about the existence of this anthology a while back¬†but forgot about it for some time until Glaiza recommended one of the short stories included in it, Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon by Ken Liu. It’s a lesbian retelling of a Chinese myth. The 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar is the Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, which marks the reunion of the Cowherd and the Weaver (Altair and Vega), who were placed in the sky as constellations and separated by the Silver River (The Milky Way) as a punishment for their forbidden love.

Review for Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

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Note: This book was originally published under the name Laurinda in Australia back in 2014.

My Summary: Lucy Lam receives the Equal Access scholarship to the prestigious Laurinda and walks into Year 10 thinking it will be her ticket out of the impoverished neighborhood her family lives in. While she is hopeful, she is also anxious about whether she will fit in among the elite students at her school. What she finds at Laurinda is equal parts fascinating and horrifying, and she must learn to navigate the school’s social snakepit without losing sight of herself and her roots.

Review:

I was really looking forward to reading this book, so much that I actually set aside the #DiversityDecBingo book I was reading to read this instead. I can’t say I regret it.

A lot of books about diasporic Asians call out racism, but this book takes it to another level. I’d venture to say it offers one of the most incisive critiques of wealthy white people’s elitism and hypocrisy that I’ve seen in a young adult novel. I’m almost surprised that it managed to get the green light for publication without some white publishing industry professional whining about “reverse racism,”

One of the refreshing things about this book is that it centers the experience of an Asian person from a working-class background. Lucy’s parents are not the educated elite that people often associate with diasporic Asians. She and her parents are refugees from Vietnam (her family is ethnically Chinese, though; Teochew, to be specific). Her parents work long hours, her father at a carpet factory, her mother at home sewing knockoffs of brand name clothes. They live in an area called Stanley, which others might call a “ghetto.” Given her background, Lucy is perfectly positioned to see through and call out the pretentious bullshit of her classmates, their families, and her school.

At the beginning, Lucy is impressed by the glamour and glitz of Laurinda, but she quickly realizes how much of a sham it is. Although the school prides itself on its academic and extracurricular excellence, its most noteworthy trait, from Lucy’s perspective, is its expectation of conformity. Although the school administration and faculty play a part in this, the majority of this pressure is exerted by an elite group of girls called the Cabinet. The politics of the student body revolve around the whims of these three girls, and even the adults of the school are often at their mercy. One cannot cross them without the expectation that dire consequences will follow.

Although Lucy recognizes their influence and their ugliness, she eventually gets drawn into their orbit and becomes closer to them and their mothers. The proximity much more physical than it is emotional, and Lucy understands that their interest in her is anything but genuine. All the same, she puts up with their antics because she feels powerless to resist, knowing her future at Laurinda is on the line if she gets into trouble by breaking the mold. This nuance of power dynamics is important because so often POC are roped into shit where walking away or fighting back will sabotage their hard-earned positions.

Against her better judgment, Lucy begins to internalize some of the toxicity of her environment. It’s gradual, but it creeps in. Thankfully, these views don’t go unchallenged. Lucy’s internal monologues and clapbacks are there for the reader, unpacking and eviscerating the wealthy white nonsense that the people around her spew. The racist and classist microaggressions, the blithe ignorance, the arrogant entitlement, the patronizing tokenism, the objectifying voyeurism, the white savior complex–all of these offenses are dragged through the mud in Lucy’s narration.

Which brings me to my next point. The book adopts an epistolary format. The story is told through a series of letters that Lucy writes to her former friend Linh, who attended her old Catholic school, Christ Our Savior, with her. This format allows Lucy to reminisce and discuss past events while linking them to current events, highlighting the contrasts between Lucy’s old and new lives. It provides a humanizing insider’s perspective on the people and communities that are othered in Australian society and reveals the hypocrisy that the wealthy white elite consider themselves above the very people whose exploitation they depend upon for the image of superiority, the people who do the honest work while they’re busy posturing over nothing.

Lucy’s parents provide contrasting perspectives on the wealthy white elite. Her mother is the relentlessly practical one who does things as necessary without much thought for appearances and status. Her father, on the other hand, is much more interested in looking good and more or less encourages Lucy to brown-nose and network to her advantage. While she does succumb to pressure a little, she’s still resistant to the principle, noting that her father doesn’t seem to see the difference between exploitation and friendship. The Cabinet is very much about the former.

That all said, this book left some things to be desired. Although was some critique of how girls weaponize internalized misogyny against one another, the book doesn’t completely overturn misogynistic values. Lucy refers to a character as a “slutty virgin” (?) at some point, so the judgmental moralizing over women’s sexuality is an issue. Also, the book is a little bit gender essentialist in certain places, with the whole “men fight it out and get over it, women bitch and backstab and get petty revenge” thing.

As for queerness, well, let’s just say it’s only alluded to but never really given full presence/development. Although Lucy refers to certain girls at her old school “discovering their true sexuality” after watching a play in which a girl stars as the main male protagonist, these characters are not named or given any more coverage. Overall, the book is pretty heteronormative in talking about romance and flirting. One character calls another a “lezzo” and while this person is portrayed as a distasteful character without a doubt, there isn’t really any direct narrative callout of her homophobia. Nor are there any explicitly named/described girls who like girls, despite the story taking place in an all girls school (like come on, statistically speaking, somebody there is gay/bi/pan). There are also no trans characters, but (sadly) this is practically a given in most YA novels.

Recommendation: I’d recommend it for the hilariously snarky take on racism and classism but keep an eye out for the problematic stuff I mentioned.

Review for If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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

Note 2: I read the Kindle ebook version of the book.

My Summary: Amanda Harding has begun a new life in hopes of escaping a painful past. All she wants to do is fit in and experience a normal teenage life. At first, it seems like she may succeed: she’s made friends with popular girls and drawn the attention of a cute football player named Grant. However, the fear of being outed as trans lingers, and there’s no telling what will happen if that fact is revealed.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. One the narrative level, I enjoyed it. There was good characterization, conflict, resolution, emotional arc, etc. It was a nice step toward getting trans narratives into mainstream publishing. I’ll go into detail about this first and then get to the more critical part.

While the primary narrative of the book takes place after Amanda has transitioned, interspersed throughout are chapters recounting past experiences before and during transition. The difficulty of the transitioning process isn’t glossed over. There is bullying, misunderstanding from family, the policing of gender from all sides, difficult conversations, rejection from family and community (especially religious community), depression, anxiety, despair, self-blame, internalized transphobia, etc. Because the author is a trans woman herself, she is able to depict with nuance and realism the detailed physical and emotional experience of Amanda’s transition.

On the more positive side, Amanda’s life isn’t all doom and gloom, the story of the tragic trans person. She’s not sentenced to a life of isolation and constant struggle. Though it takes time to get there, her parents come to accept and love her unconditionally. She finds friends, allies, other LGBTQ people, and even a boyfriend. She also has a mentor and role model from her trans support group, which such an important thing to show in trans narratives. She recognizes and finds beauty in other trans people who don’t share her experience.

Another thing that I liked is that the story addressed the homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny tied to toxic masculinity in mainstream American culture (especially sports culture), the attitudes that lead to violence against trans girls/women in particular. It also draws attention to the general misogyny that girls and women face in being constantly scrutinized and objectified by the patriarchal male gaze.

The narrative is also very explicit about undermining stereotypes and assumptions about gender and sexuality, such as “you don’t have to be a boy to like girls,” and a girl being masculine doesn’t necessarily mean she’s attracted to girls. It calls out shitty representation in media. Amanda has a conversation where she lays out the rules for what’s off-limits to ask trans people (the most basic ones: their genitals, when/whether they’ve had surgery and what it’s like, and their birth names).

Something else I appreciated was the ongoing commentary on the ways in which trans people’s struggles are part of a more universal human struggle. Transphobia is real, and violence specifically against trans people is very real, but the struggle to be true to oneself in the face of societal expectations of conformity to some norm is something basically everyone deals with at some point. It’s a humanizing thing to acknowledge, and builds the foundation for empathy between people with different experiences and identities.

The ending may feel incomplete to some, but for me it’s realistic. Being trans in a transphobic society means that we are constantly having to confront bias and educate people and have difficult conversations. It’s an ongoing process. Sometimes the more important thing isn’t whether others accept and love us, it’s whether we accept and love and make peace with ourselves, because heaven knows that it is something that so many trans people struggle with.

Now, for the criticism.

There was one part where a character proposes a theory that homophobes are just closeted gay people hating on other gay people out of insecurity and inability to accept their own secret gayness. While it’s true that internalized homophobia is a real phenomenon, this generalization is really harmful because it pins the blame of homophobia back onto the very people it victimizes. Ultimately, homophobia doesn’t benefit gay people. It benefits straight people by normalizing straightness and keeping them in a position of power and privilege. The majority of homophobic violence is perpetrated by people who aren’t secretly gay, and straight people have to hold themselves accountable for their complicity. The “homophobes are just closeted gay people” theory absolves straight people of any responsibility to fight homophobia.

From a big picture perspective, this book left a lot to be desired because it represents the experience of a straight, white, cis-passing, thin, conventionally attractive, middle-class, and able-bodied trans person. To her credit, the author does acknowledge this fact in her author’s note, and that she smoothed the path for Amanda in ways that don’t reflect reality. The percent of the trans population who shares Amanda’s identities and positionality is tiny. A large part of the reason this book was able to get published was because it features a trans person who is the most acceptable and privileged among trans people.

So my criticism isn’t necessarily against the author individually as it is against the industry that favors this kind of narrative for the spotlight. Trans people want so much more. We want to see stories that show the struggles of those of us who are non-binary/genderqueer/genderfluid/genderfucks, those of us who are non-cis-passing, those who don’t want to “pass,” those of us who are too poor to access hormones and surgery, those of us with health conditions that make medical transition difficult or impossible, those of us who are fine with our bodies and our gender expressions as they are but not with the way people label us with their assumptions based on them, those of us who are fat, those of us who are disabled, those of us who struggle with intersecting oppressions of racism/transphobia/homophobia/ableism/etc.

And we want to see more than just our struggles with being trans. We want to see our triumphs, our adventures, our conflicts over non-gender-related shit, our loving relationships or happy single lives, our sci-fi thrillers and space operas, our epic fantasy quests and paranormal romances, our happily-ever-afters.

Recommendation: I’ll be honest and say that this book didn’t feel super validating for me personally because there are many ways in which my experiences differ from Amanda’s. That’s not to say that other trans people won’t find it validating or that this is not a good book or an important one. I’d still recommend it to cis people as a way to get your toes wet in the vast ocean of trans experiences. And then, after that, look for other narratives that expand your view of what it means to be trans.

P.S. I’m so relieved that they used an actual trans girl for the cover model because there’s enough erasure to go around with Hollywood casting cis people to play trans characters left and right.

My 25 Most Anticipated YA Releases of 2017

ETA:¬†it has been brought to my attention that It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura¬†is racist against Latinx people (see this Twitter thread), so I have crossed it out. Please let other people know about this issue and mention it to people who are giving the book buzz.

It took me forever to narrow this list down, but here it is! I’ve put the cover illustration (if it has one out), the release date (if it’s been set), and a quick bulleted rundown of what each book features. Links take you to the Goodreads page. (I’m making a separate post for middle grade books, so keep an eye out for that if you like MG.)


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History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (January 17th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • M/M romance
  • Main character with OCD

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American Street by Ibi Zoboi (February 14th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Magical realism
  • Haitian American main character

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The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera (February 21st)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Family drama
  • Latina main character

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (February 28th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Inspired by real life issues, #BlackLivesMatter
  • Black main character

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The Ship Beyond Time (The Girl From Everywhere #2) by Heidi Heilig (February 28th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Time travel
  • Biracial Chinese main character
  • Persian love interest

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (March 14th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Geek Convention
  • Autistic main character
  • Bisexual main character (she’s Chinese-Australian, but the author is not Chinese)

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A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen #2) by Roshani Chokshi (March 28th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Fantasy
  • Inspired by Indian folklore
  • Political intrigue

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The Takedown by Corrie Wang (April 11th)

  • Near Future
  • Elite clique
  • Social Media Scandal
  • Asian American¬†main character (probably Chinese based on last name; author is white though)

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Always and Forever, Lara Jean¬†(To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3) by Jenny Han (May 2nd)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Romance
  • Korean American main character

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Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (May 2nd)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Cross-dressing and a cappella
  • Bisexual Chinese American main character

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It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (May 9th)

  • #ownvoices (ethnicity-wise, not sure if author is queer)
  • F/F romance
  • Japanese American main character
  • Latina love interest

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I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (May 30th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Korean American main character

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (May 30th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Arranged marriage
  • Indian American main characters

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Want by Cindy Pon (June 13th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Near Future Thriller
  • Taiwanese main character
  • Class conflict, corporate corruption

Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn (June 27th)girl-on-the-verge

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Thai American main character
  • Female friendship

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The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana (July 18th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Fantasy
  • Inspired by Indian folklore
  • Female friendship, feminist themes

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Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (August 8th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • F/F romance
  • Black Jewish main character
  • Mental health and sibling relationship

Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper #2) by Daniel Jose Older (September 12th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Afro-Latina main character
  • Protest novel fighting state violence, school to prison pipelines

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (September 26th)

  • #ownvoices
  • Magical realism
  • Latinx main characters
  • Garden estate hiding¬†secrets

27 Hours by Tristina Wright (October 3rd)

  • #ownvoices
  • Science fiction
  • Queer main characters
  • War between human colonists and native beings on a distant moon

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (October 3rd)

  • #ownvoices
  • Fantasy
  • Snow Queen retelling
  • Inspired by Asian mythology and folklore

Warcross by Marie Lu (October 3rd)

  • Science fiction
  • Virtual reality video games, teenage bounty hunters, hackers
  • Japanese American main character
  • Racially diverse cast of characters

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma (TBA)

  • #ownvoices
  • Contemporary
  • Complicated love triangle
  • Film geeks
  • Indian American main character

Walking on Knives by Maya Chhabra (TBA)

  • Fantasy
  • The Little Mermaid retelling
  • F/F romance
  • Sea Witch’s sister falls in love with the Little Mermaid

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh (TBA)

  • #ownvoices
  • Science Fiction
  • Secret weapons project
  • Genetically modified humans
  • Futuristic Korea

And that’s the end! If I made an errors in my descriptions, feel free to correct me. Comment with your own anticipated reads (link to a blog post/video is cool, too)!