Tag Archives: Asian American

29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz

29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz. December 18, 2018. Inkyard Press, 395 p. ISBN: 9781335541543.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

How many dates will it take to find The One?

Jisu’s traditional South Korean parents are concerned by what they see as her lack of attention to her schoolwork and her future. Working with Seoul’s premiere matchmaker to find the right boyfriend is one step toward ensuring Jisu’s success, and going on the recommended dates is Jisu’s compromise to please her parents while finding space to figure out her own dreams. But when she flubs a test then skips out on a date to spend time with friends, her fed-up parents shock her by shipping her off to a private school in San Francisco. Where she’ll have the opportunity to shine academically—and be set up on more dates!

Navigating her host family, her new city and school, and more dates, Jisu finds comfort in taking the photographs that populate her ever-growing social media account. Soon attention from two very different boys sends Jisu into a tailspin of soul-searching. As her passion for photography lights her on fire, does she even want to find The One? And what if her One isn’t parent and matchmaker approved?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Racial insensitivity

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 7-10. Ji-su has gotten used to the pressure her parents put on her to excel in school, but the summer before her senior year they’ve pushed into her personal life, arranging matchmaker-organized dates (seons) so she can meet the perfect guy to complement her perfect future. But when they suddenly send her from her ultracompetitive South Korean high school to one in San Francisco, Ji-su’s dating life gets even more complicated. 29 Dates is a sweet, unique take on the high-school rom-com. Ji-su’s parade of suitors allows the novel to consider any number of dynamics and types before zooming in on the all-important endgame pairing. The details of Ji-su’s life in South Korea and in the U.S. are intricately woven into the story in a way that makes the book feel cinematic and inviting. This latest by de la Cruz is perfect for fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2014), or those who love classic rom-coms and are looking for the next great narrative convention.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
A South Korean high school student spending her senior year in the United States navigates a new school, dating, and college pressures. Ji-su, who is enduring a succession of blind dates set up for her by her ambitious parents through a matchmaker, suddenly finds herself attending a private school in San Francisco, something her parents hope will help her stand out when she applies to college. Although she is heartbroken to leave behind her beloved besties, Euni and Min, she soon makes new friends, including Filipino-American heartthrob Austin; popular, high-achieving Korean-American Dave; and confident, friendly, Lebanese-American Hiba, who becomes a close friend. Ji-su continues going on arranged blind dates in California but also experiences feelings of attraction toward both Austin and Dave, all while applying to (and waiting to hear from) highly competitive colleges. The conceit of the book—following Ji-su through 29 blind dates over the course of her senior year—helps the plot move along swiftly and introduces readers to a wide variety of Korean boys with different personalities and interests, helping to break stereotypes about Asian males. Characters of a range of ethnicities populate the book, and the cultural details about life in Korea are realistically drawn and impressive in their accuracy. A surprise ending brings the story to a satisfying close that will thrill fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2014). A surefire hit wherever lighthearted romances are popular. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Authors

Melissa de la Cruz grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from The Convent of the Sacred Heart. She majored in art history and English at Columbia University (and minored in nightclubs and shopping!).

She now divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, where she lives in the Hollywood Hills with her husband and daughter.  Her website is www.melissa-delacruz.com/

Around the Web

29 Dates on Amazon

29 Dates on Barnes and Noble

29 Dates on Goodreads

29 Dates on LibraryThing

29 Dates Publisher Page

Advertisements

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. October 2, 2018. Catapult, 240 p. ISBN: 9781936787975.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

What does it mean to lose your roots―within your culture, within your family―and what happens when you find them?

Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as Nicole grew up―facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from―she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.

With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Nicole Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets―vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
Chung’s insightful memoir reveals her carefully considered ambivalence about adoption. Born extremely prematurely into a family that had immigrated from Korea, she was adopted by a white couple who lived in a small town in Oregon, where she was one of few nonwhite residents. Often mocked by her classmates, and feeling out of sync with her adoptive family, she clung to a belief that everyone involved was motivated by a desire to give her the best possible life. Once she was married and living on the East Coast, she began to investigate her origins, and she found a more complicated story than the one she had imagined. Her tentative reconciliation with her birth family and the touching bond she formed with her older sister are tempered by her persistent questions about the way her life would have differed had she not been put up for adoption. Chung’s clear, direct approach to her experience, which includes the birth of her daughter as well as her investigation of her family, reveals her sharp intelligence and willingness to examine difficult emotions.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
An essayist and editor’s account of her search for and reconnection with the parents who gave her up for adoption.Chung, the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine, had always been obsessed with the Korean birthparents she had never met. Her adoptive mother and father told her a story that emphasized the birthparents’ loving selflessness and how “[t]hey thought adoption was the best thing for me.” But the “legend” they created was not enough to sate Chung’s curiosity about the past or ease her occasional discomfort at being the Korean child of white parents in a largely Caucasian Oregon community. A year after she graduated from college, Chung discovered a way to work around the legalities of what had been a closed adoption to find out more about her birthparents. However, it was not until she became pregnant a few years later that she decided to make contact. Eager to know why she had been given up for adoption but troubled that she was betraying the trust of her adoptive parents, the author quietly moved forward with her quest. Much of what she learned—e.g., that she had been born premature and had two sisters—she already knew. Other details, like the fact that her parents had told everyone she had died at birth, raised a host of new questions. Just before Chung gave birth, her sister Cindy made contact. She revealed that their mother had been abusive and that their father had been the one who had decided on adoption. Fear of becoming like her birth mother and anger at both parents gradually gave way to the mature realization that her adoption “was not a tragedy” but rather “the easiest way to solve just one of too many problems.” Highly compelling for its depiction of a woman’s struggle to make peace with herself and her identity, the book offers a poignant depiction of the irreducibly complex nature of human motives and family ties. A profound, searching memoir about “finding the courage to question what I’d always been told.”

About the Author

Nicole Chung has written for The New York TimesGQLongreadsBuzzFeedHazlitt, and Shondaland, among other publications. She is Catapult magazine’s editor in chief and the former managing editor of The ToastAll You Can Ever Know is her first book.

Her website is www.nicolechung.net

Around the Web

All You Can Ever Know on Amazon

All You Can Ever Know on Barnes and Noble

All You Can Ever Know on Goodreads

All You Can Ever Know Publisher Page

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo. May 8, 2018. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 323 p. ISBN: 9780374304089.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 670.

From the author of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a laugh-out-loud story of love, new friendships, and one unique food truck.

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?

With Maurene Goo’s signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking, Smoking

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 15))
Grades 9-12. Sixteen-year-old Clara Shin loves her untethered L.A. life, where she lives with her young Korean Brazilian dad. But when a prom prank turns into a brawl, her punishment is the worst she can imagine: working all summer on her dad’s hot, cramped food truck, KoBra, instead of vacationing in Mexico with her mom. As if that weren’t bad enough, overachiever and perennial enemy Rose Carver must also work on the truck as punishment for her part in the scuffle. Clever strategies by Dad lead Clara and Rose to see each other less as adversaries and more as friends. Meanwhile, a Chinese boy named Hamlet expresses interest in Clara and helps her realize that perhaps her old self isn’t the one she wants to embrace going forward. Flip, hip narrator Clara may seem a tad unlikable at first, but readers can’t help but get caught up in her bumpy coming-of-age journey, applauding her increasing attachment to KoBra and her drive to help facilitate her dad’s dream of opening a restaurant. With massive amounts of humor, heart, and soul, this love letter to L.A. and its diversity is a celebration of friends, family, and food trucks.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2018)
A spirited teenager learns about the meaning of love, friendship, and family. When spunky Clara Shin, the daughter of two Brazilian immigrants of Korean descent, is forced to make up for a school prank by taking a summer job working in her father’s food truck alongside her nemesis, Rose Carver, a perfectionistic, overachieving classmate who looks like a “long-lost Obama daughter,” she thinks it’s the end of her summer. Clara’s insouciant and rebellious demeanor hides profound feelings of rejection over her glamorous mother’s decision to leave the family when Clara was 4 to jaunt around the world as a social media influencer. Clara is most comfortable hanging out with a crowd of kids who are similarly rebellious and disengaged, but a budding romance with earnest Chinese heartthrob Hamlet Wong, who works in a neighboring food truck, and a developing friendship with Rose, who has never had a BFF, teach Clara that there’s an upside to taking risks and letting people get close. When Clara feels hurt by her father’s negative reaction to a well-intentioned surprise, she takes off on an adventure that ultimately opens her eyes to all the good things that await her back home. Clara’s personal growth during this summer of change is realistic and convincing. Snappy dialogue and an endearing cast of characters bring to life this richly-drawn portrait of multicultural LA. (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Maurene Goo grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper and piles of books. She studied communication at UC San Diego and then later received a Masters in publishing, writing, and literature at Emerson College. Before publishing her first book, Since You Asked, she worked in both textbook and art book publishing. She also has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants and lives in Los Angeles.

Her website is www.maurenegoo.com

Around the Web

The Way You Make Me Feel on Amazon

The Way You Make Me Feel on Goodreads

The Way You Make Me Feel Publisher Page

American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda by Gloria Chao. February 6, 2018. Simon Pulse, 311 p. ISBN: 9781481499101.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

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?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Body humor, Graphic descriptions, Mention of child abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. For Mei, age 17 doesn’t involve prom dates. Instead, she’s a hopeful medical student at MIT, exactly as her parents planned. Mei strains against the expectations of her traditional Chinese parents, especially after they disowned her brother for choosing love over familial duty. At first, dance is the secret indulgence she must hide from them, but soon it graduates to a cute Japanese (read: unsuitable) boy and even worse—contact with her ostracized brother. She comes to understand her culture to be both a source of pride and a prison sentence, and she must find the strength to empathize with her parents, who are just as trapped by expectations. Vibrant, complex, and refreshing, this book crafts a nuanced view of growing up in a family beholden to centuries of tradition. Chao is meticulous in showing the wrinkles of a Chinese upbringing, especially in the face of an individualistic American society. Chao’s also wickedly funny; she’s not afraid of placing Mei in embarrassing situations to show readers what she’s made of. Moreover, Chao devotes a generous amount of effort to fleshing out Mei’s mother, transforming her from antagonist to someone with whom Mei learns to identify. A soulful and hilarious debut.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2017)
A Taiwanese-American girl finally starts to experience life beyond her overbearing parents.Mei, a 17-year-old freshman at MIT, has followed her parents’ plans so far. Now all she has to do is get into a good medical school, become a doctor, and marry a nice Taiwanese boy. But with some distance from her parents (living in the Boston suburbs, they still demand to see her at weekly check-ins), Mei starts to buckle under the weight of their expectations and the truths she discovers about herself: she’s a germophobe who can’t stomach the thought of medical school. She really, really likes Darren, a Japanese-American classmate. Unfortunately, a thinly drawn cast of characters (an old friend appears in just one chapter to make a point) and heavy-handed first-person reflections (“She didn’t know anything about them, my situation, how hard it was to straddle two cultures”) sometimes read more as a book about cultural stereotypes and self-discovery than a compelling, fully fleshed novel. Awkwardly specific and quickly dated cultural references such as a Facebook check-in and an explanation of the term “hack” jar readers from the narrative. Nonetheless, Chao’s inclusions of an Asian male romantic interest, a slightly nontraditional Asian female lead (size 8 with a big nose and “man-laugh”), and casual Mandarin dialogue are welcome and will appeal to uninitiated readers. A worthy story that stumbles. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. American Panda is her debut novel and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.

Gloria currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out.

Her website is gloriachao.wordpress.com.

Around the Web

American Panda on Amazon

American Panda on Goodreads

American Panda Publisher Page

Maya Lin by Susan Goldman Rubin

Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands by Susan Goldman Rubin. November 7, 2017. Chronicle Books, 100 p. ISBN: 9781452108377.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Lexile: 980.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is one of the most famous pieces of civic architecture in the world. But most people are not as familiar with the reserved college student who entered and won the design competition to build it. This accessible biography tells the story of Maya Lin, from her struggle to stick with her vision of the memorial to the wide variety of works she has created since then. The carefully researched text, paired with ample photos, crosses multiple interests—American history, civic activism, art history, and cultural diversity—and offers a timely celebration of the memorial’s 35th anniversary as well as providing an important contribution to the current discussion of the role of women and minorities in society.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. Though she leads, of course, with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—submitted to a design competition when Maya Lin was still just a senior at Yale—Rubin’s thorough examination of this modern architect extends far past the memorial for which she is best known. After briefly discussing Lin’s childhood—an animal-lover, she grew up in Ohio to academic parents who had both been born in China—Rubin focuses on Lin’s thought process behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the challenges she faced entering into the architecture world as a young Asian woman. From there, she discusses Lin’s refusal to be typecast as a monument designer, and the exception she made for the Civil Rights Memorial. Projects less likely to be well known by students—Wave Field, Langston Hughes Library, Riggio-Lynch Chapel, the Confluence Project—are given equal page time. Lin’s exploration of her Chinese heritage is examined through her design of the Museum of Chinese in America, images of the Box House showcase her playful side, and her love of animals and conservation is still evident in her ongoing What Is Missing? multimedia project. Compact trim size, color-coded chapters, and frequent glossy photos make this a solid, well-researched, and well-rounded biography of a fascinating woman. A finely designed, endlessly compelling examination of the life and work of one of America’s most notable architects.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
One of the world’s most celebrated creators of civic architecture is profiled in this accessible, engaging biography. Similar in style and format to her Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (2014) and Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe (2011), Rubin’s well-researched profile examines the career, creative processes, and career milestones of Maya Lin. Rubin discusses at length Lin’s most famous achievement, designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Chinese-American Lin was a reserved college student who entered and won the competition to design and build the memorial. Her youth and ethnicity were subjects of great controversy, and Rubin discusses how Lin fought to ensure her vision of the memorial remained intact. Other notable works by Lin, including the Civil Rights Memorial for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, a library and chapel for the Children’s Defense Fund, the Museum of Chinese in America, and the outdoor Wave Field project are examined but not in as much depth as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Attractively designed, the book is illustrated extensively with color photos and drawings. An engaging, admiring, and insightful portrait of an uncompromising, civic-minded, visionary artist. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Biography. 12-15)

About the Author

Susan Goldman Rubin has written art books for children of all ages, including middle grade biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe and the Wyeths. She lives in Malibu, California.

Her website is www.susangoldmanrubin.com

Teacher Resources

Maya Lin Lesson Plans

Maya Lin Studio

Around the Web

Maya Lin on Amazon

Maya Lin on Goodreads

Maya Lin Publisher Page

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Lee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Lee. August 8, 2017. Amulet Books, 336 p. ISBN: 9781419725487.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

She annihilates standardized tests and the bad guys.

Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tale and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Racial taunts, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol, Smoking, Body humor

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2017)
A tough, self-disciplined Chinese-American teen deals with the supernatural derailing of her college-prep activities in this speculative fiction novel that draws on the folklore of the Chinese Monkey King. In a dry, wickedly funny, first-person voice, overachiever Genie Lo easily brings readers into her corner as she puzzles with irritation over the behavior of gorgeous, goofy Quentin, newly arrived from China, who presents himself as a new student at her school and seems to think he knows her. As his story—and subsequently hers—reveals itself, it will surprise no one that the two have an extensive history together, though her actual relationship to him is a clever and fascinating detail. Genie gradually warms to him in a true-to-type romantic comedy that is filled with witty banter and valiant attempts by Genie to resist their attraction. Genie’s poignantly rendered immediate family history and incisive observations about her mostly Asian classmates and community balance the plentiful action in the battles she and Quentin undertake against a plethora of ferocious, eerily described yaoguai. Readers unfamiliar with the story of the Monkey King are easily brought up to speed early on, and the contemporary setting provides plenty of comedic juxtaposition. An exciting, engaging, and humorous debut that will appeal widely, this wraps up neatly enough but leaves an opening for further installments—here’s hoping. (Fantasy. 13-18)

Publishers Weekly Annex (July 3, 2017)
When Eugenia “Genie” Lo, a 16-year-old Chinese-American overachiever, discovers that she’s the reincarnation of the Monkey King’s legendary weapon, the Ruyi Jingu Bang, it throws her carefully ordered life into upheaval. It turns out that there has been a massive jailbreak from Diyu, the Chinese hell, and only Genie has the power to defeat the escaped demons. Charged by the goddess Guanyin to work with Quentin Sun, the annoying (yet alluring) teenage manifestation of the Monkey King, Genie has to master her newfound powers and return dozens of demons to Diyu, while still making time for her best friend and staying on top of homework-too bad Harvard doesn’t offer scholarships for fighting evil. In this dazzlingly fun debut, Yee mixes humor, Chinese folklore, and action to deliver a rousing, irreverent adventure packed with sharp-edged banter. Genie is resourceful and ferocious as she juggles her tyrannically strict mother’s demands while holding the fate of the world in her hands, and her fiery love-hate relationship with Quentin steals the show. Ages 13-up.

About the Author

F. C. Yee grew up in New Jersey and studied economics at Brown University. For his debut novel, he drew inspiration from the best and wisest people in his life. Outside of writing, he practices capoeira, a Brazilian form of martial arts. He currently calls the San Francisco Bay Area home.

His website is www.fcyee.com

Around the Web

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo on Amazon

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo on Goodreads

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo on JLG

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo Publisher Page

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers by Lisa Ko. May 2, 2017. Algonquin Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9781616206888.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 870.

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.

This powerful debut is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 14))
When Deming is 11, his Chinese American mother vanishes, leaving him with a surrogate family that, no longer able to provide for him, places him with foster parents, two academics who move Deming from New York City to upstate New York and subsequently adopt him. Flash-forward 10 years. Now 21, aimless Deming has flunked out of college, more interested in his music than his studies but always wondering about his mother. How could she have left him? Where is she? Then, after all these years, he learns she has returned to China, and, securing her phone number, he calls her. The action then shifts from his point of view to the first-person voice of his absent mother, telling her side of the story. Will son and mother be reunited? Though obviously skillfully written—it’s a winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction—the book can sometimes be difficult to read, thanks to its bleak subject matter, which, nevertheless, is reflective of today’s reality. Those who are interested in closely observed, character-driven fiction will want to leave room for The Leavers on their shelves.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
A Chinese woman who works in a New York nail salon doesn’t come home one day; her young son is raised by well-meaning strangers who cannot heal his broken heart.We meet Bronx fifth-grader Deming Guo on the day his mother disappears without a trace. From there, the story moves both forward and backward, intercutting between the narrative of his bumpy path to adulthood and his mother’s testimony. Gradually the picture comes together—Deming was conceived in China and born in America because his unmarried mother, Peilan, decided she would rather borrow the $50,000 to be smuggled to America than live out her life in her rural village. After her baby is born she tries to hide him underneath her sewing machine at work, but clearly she cannot care for him and work enough to repay the loan shark. She sends him back to China to be raised by her aging father. When Deming is 6, Yi Ba dies, and the boy rejoins his mother, who now has a boyfriend and lives with him; his sister, Vivian; and her son, Michael. After Peilan disappears, Deming is shuffled into foster care—his new parents are a pair of white academics upstate. Ten years later, it is Michael who tracks down a college dropout with a gambling problem named Daniel Wilkinson and sends a message that, if he is Deming Guo, he has information about his mother. The twists and turns continue, with the answers about Peilan’s disappearance withheld until the final pages. Daniel’s involvement in the alternative music scene is painted in unnecessary detail, but otherwise the specificity of the intertwined stories is the novel’s strength. Ko’s debut is the winner of the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Fiction for a novel that addresses issues of social justice, chosen by Barbara Kingsolver. This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity.

About the Author

Lisa Ko’s fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, Apogee Journal, Narrative, Copper Nickel, the Asian Pacific American Journal, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, and Blue Mountain Center, among others. She was born in New York City, where she now lives.

Her website is lisa-ko.com

Teacher Resources

The Leavers Discussion Questons

Around the Web

The Leavers on Amazon

The Leavers on Goodreads

The Leavers on JLG

The Leavers Publisher Page

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate. May 2, 2017. Harry N. Abrams, 400 p. ISBN: 9781419723735.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

A cappella just got a makeover.

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 13))
Grades 9-12. Noteworthy, by Riley Redgate (Seven Ways We Lie, 2016), features a girl who isn’t sure of anything at all. Jordan Sun is a junior at her performing-arts boarding school, but her low voice and Chinese features keep her from getting cast. Jordan’s on scholarship—her family struggles financially because of her disabled father’s medical bills—and her parents are overly invested in her success. So when she fails yet again to get cast, she considers other options. A spot has opened in the Sharpshooters, an elite all-male a cappella group. It’s college-application gold, so Jordan dresses up like a guy, borrows her cousin’s name, and auditions. Crazier still, she gets in. Jordan Sun, contralto, becomes Julian Zhang, tenor, living a double life as she’s drawn into the world of the Sharpshooters and into what it’s like to be a boy. In some ways, pretending helps her become more sure of her identity: she’s questioned her sexuality before, but as she spends more time as Julian, it becomes increasingly clear that she’s bisexual. Conversely, as she grows more comfortable acting like a guy, the surer she is that she’s not actually a transgender boy: “I knew it innately. The struggle to fit into some narrow window of femininity didn’t exclude me from the club.” It’s a smart critique of gender roles—male and female—in today’s society (a particularly notable scene is one in which Jordan, as Julian, is told in no uncertain terms to “man up” by a respected teacher), and it’s all delightfully wrapped up in a fun, compelling package of high-school rivalries, confusing romances, and a classic Shakespearean case of mistaken identity.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 15, 2017)
Redgate deftly harmonizes a lighthearted plot with an exploration of privilege, identity, and personal agency. Jordan Sun is a Chinese-American high school junior from a working-poor family who feels a bit out of place at her prestigious, arts-focused boarding school in upstate New York. Though the school’s diversity policy is bringing in more students from minority backgrounds, most of her classmates are still wealthy and white. After continued rejection for roles in the theater department, Jordan decides to try her hand at something new and joins one of the school’s legendary a cappella groups: a traditionally all-male one. To audition, Jordan adopts the male persona of Julian, and when Julian is accepted to fill a tenor spot with the group, Jordan must slip into the role of her life. As a first-person narrator, Jordan is often dryly sarcastic, but it is her lyrical prose that brings depth and empathy to a story that could otherwise be another needless riff on the cross-dressing trope. “It’s too simple to hate the people who have doorways where you have walls,” she reflects. Wearing Julian’s identity causes Jordan to question her assumptions regarding femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. Jordan ultimately shatters her own self-limiting expectations and in doing so encourages readers to do likewise. A heart song for all readers who have ever felt like strangers in their own skins. (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Riley Redgate speaks exclusively in third person, so this works nicely. She loves horror films, apocalyptic thunderstorms, and the Atonement soundtrack. When writing author bios, she feels as if she is crafting some weirdly formal Tinder profile.

She plans someday to start a melodramatically epic rock band named Millennial Filth. Until then, she writes acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, also novels.

Her website is rileyredgate.com.

Around the Web

Noteworthy on Amazon

Noteworthy on Goodreads

Noteworthy on JLG

Noteworthy Publisher Page

Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes

Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes. November 8, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781481462525.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 820.

From the author of Soldier Boys and Search and Destroy comes a thought-provoking, action-packed page-turner based on the little-known history of the Japanese Americans who fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.

Yuki Nakahara is an American.

But it’s the start of World War II, and America doesn’t see it that way. Like many other Japanese Americans, Yuki and his family have been forced into an internment camp in the Utah desert. But Yuki isn’t willing to sit back and accept this injustice—it’s his country too, and he’s going to prove it by enlisting in the army to fight for the Allies.

When Yuki and his friend Shig ship out, they aren’t prepared for the experiences they’ll encounter as members of the “Four-Four-Two,” a segregated regiment made up entirely of Japanese-American soldiers. Before Yuki returns home—if he returns home—he’ll come face to face with persistent prejudices, grueling combat he never imagined, and friendships deeper than he knew possible.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War; Violence; Smoking

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 5))
Grades 7-10. In December 1941, FBI agents arrest Yuki Nakahara’s father without cause. By 1943, 18-year-old Yuki and his family have been “relocated” from California to an internment camp in Utah. Despite this, Yuki enlists in the U.S. Army with his best friend, Shig, and they join the Second Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (which comprises only Japanese Americans, as whites refuse to fight alongside them). Yuki initially boasts about becoming a war hero, but is sobered as he sees friends killed by German artillery. After months of relentless battle, Yuki and Shig’s comrades-in-arms suffer countless casualties and gain a reputation as “the Purple Heart Battalion.” Finally, because generals view the nisei soldiers as expendable, Yuki’s battalion is sent on an almost impossible mission to rescue white American soldiers surrounded by German forces. Hughes’ writing effectively evokes the horrors of war and the internal conflict of young men fighting for a country that has treated them unjustly. The challenges of Yuki’s reentry into the States are also well conveyed: the guilt of survival, the difficulty of communicating the war experience to civilians, and the continued widespread racism. Though a couple of conversations seem stilted for the sake of exposition, in general the dialogue reads naturally (even the pidgin English spoken by Hawaiian soldiers is decent). This is historical fiction at its finest—immersive and inspirational.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2016)
The book’s title refers to the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed entirely of Issei and Nisei (first-generation Japanese immigrants and their children, respectively) who served in WWII, and which earned the name Purple Heart Battalion because so many of its soldiers were either wounded or killed in battle. In December 1941, Hughes’s protagonist, Berkeley high-schooler Yuki Nakahara, watches helplessly as FBI agents arrest his father as a spy and unceremoniously haul him away. Less than six months later, Yuki and his siblings, all American citizens, are deported with their mother to the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Yet Yuki decides to join the army because he believes it’s the only way he’ll “ever be respected in this country.” Readers follow him through basic training; the agonies of battle, loss, and injury; and his return home. Events, characters, and dialogue create an indelible sense of time and place. When Yuki’s mother protests her husband’s arrest, an FBI agent spits out: “That’s enough, lady. Your husband’s a sneaky little slant-eyed Jap. That’s all we need to know.” A Denver barber refuses to “cut Jap hair” even though Yuki is wearing his Silver Star and Purple Heart. Yuki’s wish to put it all behind him realistically characterizes so many of “the greatest generation”; his father’s lack of physical affection is a cultural marker; and the sweet, naive romance with the girl back home reflects the times. A predictable story arc lessens the novel’s tension; still, Yuki emerges as a true hero during a dark period of American history. betty carter

About the Author

Dean Hughes is the author of more than eighty books for young readers, including the popular sports series Angel Park All-Stars, the Scrappers series, the Nutty series, the widely acclaimed companion novels Family Pose and Team Picture, and Search and Destroy. Soldier Boys was selected for the 2001 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list. Dean Hughes and his wife, Kathleen, have three children and six grandchildren. They live in Midway, Utah.

His website is www.deanhughes.net.

Around the Web

Four-Four-Two on Amazon

Four-Four-Two on Goodreads

Four-Four-Two on JLG

Four-Four-Two Publisher Page

Watched by Marina Budhos

Watched by Marina Budhos. September 13, 2016. Wendy Lamb Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9780553534191.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Marina Budhos’s extraordinary and timely novel examines what it’s like to grow up under surveillance, something many Americans experience and most Muslim Americans know.

Naeem is far from the “model teen.” Moving fast in his immigrant neighborhood in Queens is the only way he can outrun the eyes of his hardworking Bangladeshi parents and their gossipy neighbors. Even worse, they’re not the only ones watching. Cameras on poles. Mosques infiltrated. Everyone knows: Be careful what you say and who you say it to. Anyone might be a watcher.

Naeem thinks he can charm his way through anything, until his mistakes catch up with him and the cops offer a dark deal. Naeem sees a way to be a hero—a protector—like the guys in his brother’s comic books. Yet what is a hero? What is a traitor? And where does Naeem belong?

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 1))
Grades 6-9. Naeem Rahman can’t stop moving. After emigrating from Bangladesh to New York at age 11, he, as a high-school senior, spends his days cutting class and moving through the streets of Queens, hoping to avoid the watchful eyes of his father, stepmother, and half brother; his hordes of nosy neighbors; and especially the police and cameras that cover his Muslim neighborhood. When his friend Ibrahim tricks him into shoplifting, two NYPD officers leave Naeem with a choice. Either go to jail or become exactly what he has always hated—a spy, an informant, a watcher—thereby betraying his family, friends, and community. Budhos, author of two other novels that focus on immigrant teens (Ask Me No Questions, 2006, and Tell Us We’re Home, 2010), presents another effective coming-of-age novel, one that not only confronts without reservation the notion of Islamaphobia and issues of teenage identity but also tackles the grittier aspects of life in this post-9/11 era. What does it mean to belong to a family? a community? a country?

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2016)
Naeem, a teenager living in an immigrant neighborhood in Queens, finds his grip on life slipping.With his performance in school deteriorating, he feels unable to deal with the disappointment of his hardworking and hopeful Bangladeshi parents–and then there are the inquisitive eyes and mouths of their neighbors. Hoping to avoid them, Naeem keeps himself constantly on the move. But he is always aware that he is always being watched, by cops and by cameras placed all around. He’s taken small risks, but close calls have not been enough to deter him, until one day his past mistakes catch up with him and he has to make a choice between paying dearly or taking a deal the cops offer him: to become a watcher and help them spy on the people in his neighborhood. Having previously written about immigrant teens in Tell Us We’re Home (2010) and Ask Me No Questions (2006), Budhos again tackles identity and belonging or lack thereof, as well as Islamophobia and growing up under surveillance. It’s a slow story, appropriately filled with uncertainty. Action takes second place to a deeper message, and room is left for readers to speculate on the fates of certain characters. While the absence of certainty may frustrate some readers, it also speaks to the underlying takeaway: you can never be sure what others’ intentions are, even if you have made it your job to study them. (Thriller. 12-18)

About the Author

Marina Budhos is an author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction.

She has published the novels, Watched (Random House/Wendy Lam Books, 2016), Ask Me No Questions (Simon & Schuster, 2006), an ALA Notable and winner of the first James Cook Teen Book Award, The Professor of Light (Putnam, 1999), House of Waiting (Global City Press, 1995) and a nonfiction book, Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers (Henry Holt, 1999). She and her husband Marc Aronson coauthored the acclaimed Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom & Science (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin, 2010). Their latest joint endeavor, Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro & The Invention of Modern Photojournalism will be published in 2017 by Henry Holt & Co.

Her short stories, articles, essays, and book reviews have appeared in publications such as The Daily Beast, Quartz, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, The Literary Review, The Nation, Dissent, Marie Claire, Redbook, Travel & Leisure, Ms., Los Angeles Times, and in numerous anthologies.

Ms. Budhos has received an emma (Exceptional Merit Media Award), a Rona Jaffe Award for Women Writers, and a Fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts. She has been a Fulbright Scholar to India, given talks throughout the country and abroad, and is currently on the faculty of the English Department at William Paterson University.

Her website is www.marinabudhos.com.

Teacher Resources

Interview with Marina Budhos via NBCNews

Around the Web

Watched on Amazon

Watched on JLG

Watched on Goodreads