Posts tagged ‘Asian American’

Listen, Slowly

Listen SlowlyTitle: Listen, Slowly
Author: Thanhha Lai
ISBN: 9780062229182
Pages: 260 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2015.

Dad is waiting for me to turn toward him. Yeah right. One little glance would encourage another diatribe about connecting with my roots. They’re his roots, not mine. I’m a Laguna Beach girl who can paddleboard one-legged and live on fish tacos and mango smoothies. My parents should be thanking the Buddha for a daughter like me: a no-lip gloss, no-short shorts twelve-year-old rocking a 4.0 GPA and an SAT-ish vocab who is team leader in track, science, and chess. I should at least be able to spend the summer resting my brain at the beach. Instead, I get shoved on this predawn flight.
My parents slapped me with the news just last night when I was floaty and happy because sixth grade was finally over. I was thinking summer vacation, sunsets, bonfires. But noooo, with buggy eyes and stretchy smiles, they cooed out the news that I “get to” escort Ba, Dad’s mom, back to Vietnam for six whole weeks. (1-2)

Twelve-year-old Mai (known as Mia at school) is being forced to fly halfway around the world to help her grandmother Ba come to terms with their grandfather’s disappearance during the Vietnam War. Never mind that it happened years ago, and that Mai had plans for this summer, that she doesn’t understand the language, and that her own father isn’t staying with them due to previously scheduled charity work. The detective is struggling for specifics, so in the meantime Mai meets her many, many cousins, including Anh Minh who learned English with a Texas accent at an American boarding school, and Ut, a reluctant tour guide who is more interested in caring for her frog than her newfound family member. The culture shock is incredible, resulting in a misunderstanding about thongs and powerful smelling herbal remedies for lice and stomach aches. But as time passes, Mai begins to see the beauty in this alternate way of life, discovering that it might be up to her to re-acquaint her grandmother with seeing the good things of today instead of focusing on the past.

The details in the book are incredible. You can feel the heat, you can smell the medicines, and you can experience a world that probably few readers would ever consider visiting before reading this book. Mai’s changing moods, spoiled nature and trepidations, but also her awe of this whole new environment, are convincingly displayed.

Away from the airport, it’s green and more green rice paddies. This doesn’t seem right. The documentary showed the airport was right in the middle of the city. Ba stirs, reaches inside her bag, and [… her] other hand twists a knob in the air. Dad agrees, of course. The air conditioner, which makes her even more carsick, goes off. Windows down. Invisible flames whip into the taxi. I feel like on of those desserts Mom blows a torch on. […]
I stick my head out. No it doesn’t feel any cooler. Then I can’t believe it–right on the roadside, not behind a fence or anything, stands a real live water buffalo. Chewing on grass, mud on its back, nostrils the size of golf balls, mega croissants for horns. […]
“Stop, Dad, tell him to stop. STOP!”[…]
“This is so cool!”(15-16)

I am slightly unsure about the portrayal of some of the older Vietnamese ignorance about modern-day conveniences, but it seems like it’s plausible based on details presented in the book, such as the lack of reliable and widespread Internet. It does however show that there are some benefits behind traditional ways, which I think balances out those portrayals. I learned quite a bit about Vietnamese language and history, as Mai and her cousins exchange vocabulary lessons. I’m not attempting to duplicate those symbols and lessons here because I wouldn’t know how. Conversations in Vietnamese are designated by italics, and translated into English with more frequency as the book progresses. While the contextual clues make it clear what is being said, I do wish a glossary and/or author’s note had been included for quick reference and further information.

The final reveal of the truth of Mai’s grandfather’s whereabouts and life during the war is something that will pull at people’s heart-strings. Mai’s turn around is convenient but appropriate after spending so much time among her Vietnamese family. This is a coming of age story for sure, but also a story of coming home and coming to terms with your past. Highly recommended.

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The Shadow Hero

Shadow HeroTitle: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
ISBN: 9781596436978
Pages: 170 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, c2014

“No no no!”
“But you don’t even know what a superhero is!”
“Of course I know what a superhero is! They’re all over the newspapers!”
“Then why don’t you want to be one?”
“First of all, that costume is ridiculous! What kind of superhero symbol is that?!”
“It’s the character for gold, Hank! Gold is a very, very good symbol! It’s shiny! It’s pretty! It’s worth a lot of money!”
“Nobody’s gonna understand that! And second–”
“You never appreciate anything I do for you!”
“And SECOND, I don’t have any superpowers! I can’t fly or lift a car over my head or anything like that! How am I supposed to be a superhero with no superpowers?!” (25-26)

Some mothers want their children to become doctors or lawyers or teachers. Hank’s mother gets saved from a bank robbery suspect by a superhero, and now she wants her son to be a superhero. Hank’s rational explanation that he has neither an inclination or an ability to become a superhero fall on deaf ears. But when a violent crime hits close to home, it convinces both Hank and his mother to change their minds.

I was especially intrigued by the history behind the story, maybe slightly more than the Gene Luen Yang’s actual story. Yang brings to light a little known superhero, created by an unknown cartoonist (Chu Hing), for an unknown publisher (Rural Home) and starring in just five issues. Speculation apparently abounds at the origins of the superhero but also the relationship between cartoonist and publisher. Never seeing the Green Turtle’s face or discovering his origin, was Hing hiding a Chinese superhero in plain sight against his publisher’s wishes? While we’ll probably never know for sure, Yang gives readers not only a history lesson and a copy of the first full issue, but also a convincing origin story for this nearly forgotten superhero.

Yang mentions stereotypes in his afterward, remarking upon “Hing’s use of racial stereotypes in his depictions of the Japanese” (157). I wonder if Yang (as I suspect) consciously invoked these stereotypes when portraying his characters, especially Hank’s mother as a meddling, overly involved immigrant and Hank’s origin story rings unmistakably similar to Spider-man’s and Batman’s. Don’t miss the cheeky nod towards these counterparts where some characters talk about the new superhero who “dresses up like some sort of owl or vulture or–” (30). But Hank’s character is more Peter Parker than Bruce Wayne, as he muddles through the path to superhero, making his own costume and secret identity name and bumbling his way through fights. I won’t say much about his one special ability, but I enjoyed how Yang incorporated Chinese elements throughout the story. The ending is slightly anti-climatic, but it’s understandable as it doesn’t appear that the original material had many costumed cohorts to battle, but instead fought mortal men in a real world war. Maybe this is another reason it lasted such a short time, since everyone was intrigued and entertained by Joker, Penguin, Lex Luther, and other just as imaginary enemies.

The layout is very similar to comics, with chapters beginning with an expository flashback and ending with the Green Turtle logo. Sound effects are written in brightly colored bubble-letters (Wack, Kick, Smash, Whap, etc.) that contrast against the generally more muted backgrounds. Some of the layouts are unique and very eye-catching, like the wheel-shaped montage of fight sequences found on page 105, making me think of a Zodiac or color wheel. This engaging read could appeal to wide audiences as the superhero genre continues to grow.

2 The Point Tuesdays Flying the Dragon

For my new job, all the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: Flying the Dragon
Author: Natalie Dias Lorenzi
ISBN: 9781580894340
Pages: 233 pages
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: July 1, 2012

Ever since she had translated something for Hiroshi that morning, Kevin wouldn’t leave her alone. “Ching chang wong wang!” He snickered, obviously pleased with himself.
“That doesn’t even mean anything.” Skye rolled her eyes, hoping no one else had heard him. As luck would have it, she had to peer around his big head to copy the reading homework from the board. But whenever she tried to look, he blocked her way.
She sighed. “Cut it out. I can’t see the board.”
“Why don’t you ask your Chinese boyfriend what it says when he gets back from ESL class?”
“He’s not my boyfriend; he’s my cousin. And he’s not Chinese, duh. He’s Japanese.”
“Whatever.”
Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him. (48)

Sorano (called Skye) was excited about finally securing a spot on this coming summer’s All-Star soccer team. Instead, she’ll attend Japanese classes due to her cousin Hiroshi and his family moving to the United States. Hiroshi’s just as surprised as Skye about the move, angrily missing his own summer goal of continuing the family tradition and competing in the annual kite battles. The conflict grows as Hiroshi closely guards the little time he has with his ailing grandfather and Skye is embarrassed by Hiroshi’s very Japanese manners. When Skye accidently damages the kite that Hiroshi and his grandfather built together and carefully transported from Japan, it looks like their friendship is over before it got off the ground. Peppered with Japanese phrases, words, and cultural tidbits, this debut novel realistically portrays a collision of cultures and emotions and how two very different people can help each other succeed and soar.

I’d say more about how much I loved this book and the cover, but since it’s To the Point Tuesday, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with following the links. Looking for more information? Literary Rambles has an interview with author Natalie Dias Lorenzi and the author has a whole host of links to reviews and interviews on her website.

Zen and the Art of Faking It

Title: Zen and the Art of Faking It
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Narrator: Mike Chamberlain
ISBN: 9780739371558
Pages: 264 pages
Discs/CDs: 5 CDs/ 5 hours 35 minutes
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008 (print Scholastic, c2007)

San Lee has just moved to a new town (again) and has a chance to reinvent himself instead of being the adopted son of a con-man father who is now in jail and a mother who works long hours. So when the kids at school accidentally gets the impression that he’s some sort of Zen mystic, he decides to go along with it. Especially because his meditation in the snow catches the eye of Woody, a girl with her own history and drive to recreate herself.

I didn’t have the instant connection with Zen and the Art of Faking It that I did with Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie or After Ever After. The main characters of those other novels are introspective and mature and the stories are weighted with emotion. This story is less so, and at times San appeared abrasive to me. With the popularity of Wimpy Kid, I can see his attitude appealing to teen readers. He does work harder than Wimpy Kid in trying to accomplish his goals, however misguided those goals are since he’s encouraging his classmates to think of him as a Buddhist expert. San is extremely dense and essentially clueless, which got on my nerves. For example, something that bothers and troubles San for most of the novel I had figured out the first time they gave the clues, and was therefore yelling at my radio every time they mentioned it for the rest of the book. I did like that Sonnenblick took a chance at portraying Buddhism in a teen fiction book, since we see it presented so infrequently in literature. I thought applying the philosophies to every day events like basketball helped bring understanding and might encourage more exploration in the religion.

My apathy towards the book might have something to do with my listening experience. I had a hard time connecting with narrator Mike Chamberlain, with his efforts coming across as overly exaggerated and I can’t decide why. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but he didn’t have enough range to distinguish between all the characters, and I got confused over who was speaking several times.

Overall, this book is a coming of age story, and if older Wimpy Kids are looking for something similar I might hand it off to them. The “Happily Ever After” ending however is nothing like Wimpy Kid, and seems a little disingenuous with all the miscommunications that involve San. Personally, I would stick with Jordan Sonnenblick’s other novels.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Title: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Author: Grace Lin
Narrator: Janet Song
ISBN: 9780307746047
Pages: 278 pages
CDs/Discs: 4 CDs, 4 hours, 57 minutes
Publisher/Date: Random House, Inc., Listening Library, c2010.

Living with her mother and father in a small and sparse mountain village, young Minli toils with them over the land to yield the bare minimum of food. Minli enjoys listening to her father’s stories of dragons and the Old Man on the Moon, but she can’t block out her mother’s discontented sighs for greater wealth. Taking it upon herself to improve her family’s fortune, Minli sneaks away from her home in search of the Old Man on the Moon. Her journey is anything but easy, as she encounters magic around every turn that test her strength and resilience.

I was pleasantly surprised by the narration. Janet Song does not distinguish the character voices so they are instantly recognizable. Instead, her soothing tone makes you feel like you’re being read a bed time story or sitting around a camp fire with your family. It’s an intimate experience where you can envision she’s talking right to you, and I thought she was a perfect choice for this story that’s essentially a string of inter-connected shorter stories. This book is perfect for bed time reading as the sections are quite short and snippets can be read as desired or as time dictates.


While I absolutely loved the audiobook, readers of the physical book get an extra treat with author Grace Lin’s beautiful illustrations. The jacket art is just a preview of her skills, as each chapter is preceded by a line drawing of an object or event portrayed in the story. Interspersed amongst the chapters are full color illustrations that portray in vivid detail the scenes described. You can apparently buy prints of these illustrations from the author through etsy, like this one, which is one of my favorite: http://www.etsy.com/listing/60892565/the-dragon-gate-print

Grace Lin weaves these stories together effortlessly, as one segues into another and they all come together at the end. The alternating points of view give listeners and readers a glimpse into not only Minli’s perspective, but also takes turns showing us the thoughts and feelings of Minli’s parents and other characters, including a dragon. This gives readers a connection to all the stories. A wonderful, understated gem of book that sparkles from the inside, it has a satisfying happy ending that is a result of unexpected actions.

I hope someone used this Newbery Honor Book for their Summer Reading program of One World Many Stories, because this would have coincided well with that theme.

Paper Daughter

Title: Paper Daughter
Author: Jeanette Ingold
ISBN: 9780152055073
Pages: 215 pages
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2010.

Why? Why would my father, who’d always said a person was only as good as his or her word, have lied about his parents and about how he’d been brought up?
I couldn’t come up with an explanation that would make his lie be all right. In fact, I couldn’t think of one that I could even believe.
He made up a story because he was ashamed of the truth? I couldn’t imagine it.” (19)

After Maggie’s father is killed in a hit and run, she feels compelled to continue her summer plans of working as a summer intern at the paper he was employed at while he was alive. While bouncing from one department to another, she finds herself assisting in an investigation of corrupt dealings between a deceased city councilman and a contractor running for his vacated seat. She’s abruptly yanked from the team when questions arise regarding whether or not her father was involved in the conspiracy. In examining her father’s past stories, Maggie realizes that she might not have known her father as well as she thought because he has some secrets of his own.

First off, with all the talk of white-washing covers, this has a distinctly Asian feel (although the girl on the cover looks a little young to be Maggie). Jeanette Ingold weaves two stories together, the first one being Maggie tracking down her father’s history, and the second being the slow reveal of that history to the readers. Readers can’t be sure if Maggie’s father was or wasn’t involved in the corruption scandal, but they are privy to what Maggie will eventually discover about her past. The reader is likewise horrified, along with Maggie, when she finds out the person behind the hidden past.

Maggie is a likeable character, with a tendency to spell out her feelings. She’s not completely composed (having a horrible, anxiety filled first day in which she spills coffee and is forced to cluelessly put together sports schedules) but she has maturity that is impressive and a street-smarts that is enviable. She tells fellow intern Jillian at one point

“I had a boyfriend where I lived before, but we broke up when I moved here. Which was okay. I’d outgrown him.” I felt myself flush with embarrassment. “Not that I’m so perfect,” I added. “But he didn’t know how to be serious.”(119)

Jillian is the counter-balance to Maggie, with a much more flamboyant personality and a talkative nature. Maggie is quiet and self-contained, keeping back from her mother the information she is finding out about her father until she feels it’s absolutely necessary to tell her. Her mother is completely removed from the search for her father’s history, and I think that’s relatable because Maggie is his flesh and blood and it affects her more than her mother. She has qualms about where this search might lead her, because although she is aware of being of Asian decent, she thinks of herself as American, and is afraid of what these revelations might do to her identity.

“That’s because that’s not how I think of myself. I have a heritage, sure–everyone has that, and I’m proud of mine. But it doesn’t make me foreign, and it doesn’t mean I have to take on the problems of a bunch of people I don’t understand.
[…] I don’t want to change who I am, even if sometimes I’m not sure who that is.
[…] I might find a family I don’t want. And then, even if I never see them again, I’ll know about them, and that will make me different.”
Jillian, the non-politically-correct devil’s advocate, then tells Maggie “You’d rather leave your dad to whatever stories people make up about him than take a chance on finding a truth you might not like.” (190)

It’s a poignant question of who makes you what you are, and what could change that self-identity. Maggie eventually answers it in a satisfying conclusion.

Paris Pan Takes the Dare

Title: Paris Pan Takes the Dare
Author: Cynthea Liu
ISBN: 9780399250439
Pages: 248 pages
Publisher/Date: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, c2009.

So here I was, sitting in a classroom at a school of only ninety-seven people, learning what a hundres percent of anything was.
I checked the room for clues I was in the wrong place– possibly the third grade–when a tiny was of paper suddenly landed on my desk.
Someone was trying to communicate.
I put my hand over the wad, slid it to my lap, and opened it.
Wanna have lunch? TYPTTFY = tap your pencil two times for yes. And I don’t take no for an anser. Mayo
Mayo?
And what happened to the w in answer? I glanced over my shoulder. A girl with dark red hair and freckles sprinkled across her nose grinned back at me. I bit my lip and did the math: lunch with one person was better than lunch with no one.
I tapped my pencil twice. (6)

Twelve-year-old Paris Pan has just moved Sugar Lake, Oklahoma with her older brother and sister, where there are a grand total of eleven kids in her seventh grade class, including herself. She is quickly approached by Mayo and Dana, who warn her against not only Robin the freak who reads but never talks, but also convinces her to take part in the Dare in two weeks. The Dare is rumored to have caused a girl’s death several years ago, and it turns out that Paris’s family is now living in her old house. Paris is not thrilled about participating in the Dare, but with only three girls in her class, there aren’t a lot of options for friends. Besides, nothing can be worse then the noises in the shed at night and the strange dolls that her dog keeps digging up, right?

Cynthea Liu builds suspense with this novel, creating noises that go bump in the night, Ouiji board interactions with the ghost of the dead girl, and mysterious dolls that appear and disappear. Their confrontation in the dark woods by the house leads to an appropriate climax, with everyone getting scared. She tries to communicate her fears with another class outcast, Tom who stutters and splutters before getting a word out, with humerous results. Librarians willl be thrille to see the girls learn some real research skills from Mrs. Reynolds as they consult the “ancient microfiche station” to find information on the girl’s death. When Paris finally confronts her fears, she does so with her dog “and the cordless from the kitchen. And the flashlight. And the staple gun.” (242) This and other scenarios will surely lead readers to laugh and possibly confront their own fears.

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