May in September – Asian-American reads

We Are Not Free | Traci Chee

Summary: This is a novel written by a single author; yet, like a collection of short stories in an anthology, this bound grouping of fictional memoirs and autobiographical experiences are linked by a theme, varied in their voices and messages. As the USA-born children of Japanese immigrants, these main characters are American citizens with their rights and identities taken from them by the government. Crowding together in ‘camp’ internment, they still have relationships and aspirations, but are all the more aware that they’ve done nothing wrong – that they are decent people being treated indecently. It presents as a slice-of-life story for each main character along many months of progressive reaction by the government and white society at large.

Recommendation: Being a teenager in good times can still be a strain. Imagining such a period of time as the three years immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and what that was like for a teenager of any color or status is a challenge. My ethnicity and experience do not lend itself toward understanding the American-Asian experience; thus, this work is valuable and helpful in my attempt to grasp the nuances I would otherwise miss about our cultural differences. 

A Phở Love Story | Loan Le

Summary: Born in the USA as the “second generation” from Vietnamese immigrants, each main character has customs, rules, and goals as dictated by their family. What if you don’t want to go into the industry your parents have assumed for you? What if you fall in love with the wrong person? The story blends first generation knowledge and divisiveness with American teenaged angst. Duty to family means something very strong in the case of both main characters – a Romeo and Juliet situation.

Recommendation: I could ‘hear’ my own teenaged thoughts of cramped individualism and rebellion while reading the words and thoughts of both Bao and Linh. Le did a great job describing the panic attacks and near to PTSD reactions of stress by the younger characters (and later, the older generation). It’s a very human story with relatively easy solutions to a multigenerational problem (the strife between families), though we can see and believe in the minutiae that dictated this conflict from its beginning. I can’t claim there is a great deal about these high school students that is realistic, but then I’m not a teenager faced with their issues today.

A Taste for Love | Jennifer Yen

Summary: Liza is a perfectly normal American teen, deserving a more loyal boyfriend than what she’s got, and jealous of her older sister, the professional model in NYC. But she’s also her mother’s daughter, a gifted baker who wants to move on to culinary school. Mrs. Yang wants Liza to attend college and date a ‘good Asian boy’. Little does Liza know how far her mom will go to achieve her goal. Does “Set Up” mean anything to you?

Recommendation: This is an adorable retelling of Pride and Prejudice, complete with Mr. Darcy comparison within the story. It’s fun and stressful, something of a mystery, and has the best references to recognizable Houston hotspots (I’ve lived there, I’ve visited those places named. It was refreshing to read about the familiar, even if I haven’t been there in years). While an enjoyable young adult story, I’m still flummoxed by the fact that these kids were incredibly rich and able to buy endless bubble teas or secure their own Ubers. The description of the baking items throughout were magnificent, especially during the contest.

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