#AsianLitBingo – The Land of Forgotten Girls

Ever since Erin Entrada Kelly’s third book, Hello, Universe, won the 2018 Newbery award, I’ve been curious about her books. And now that I’ve read one, how I wish I could have read it when I was a kid!

It’s a bit of a sad story really, two young girls move to the US from the Philippines not long after their sister and mother die and their father remarries this woman Vea, who really falls into the “evil stepmother” category. Life isn’t easy but then three years ago, their father returns to the Philippines for a funeral and never returns to America.

“Unfortunately, we still have Vea.”

Vea, who complains a lot, smokes a lot, and locks Sol in the closet when she misbehaves.

12-year-old Sol is defiant but her younger sister Ming is young and doesn’t know any better.

“I’m not a disobedient girl, even though Papa and Vea say I am. Vea thinks it’s because I’m being raised in America, but that’s not it. I just don’t think it’s right to obey orders that you know are wrong – and calling Vea “Mother” was as bad as cursing God.”

They live in lower-income housing. Thin walls, the kind you can hear all kinds of sounds through, and rats. It’s a bleak and depressing place, but Sol tries to make it a better one for her sister by telling her fairytales and stories she makes up or remembers from what their mother told her, including stories about their made-up Auntie Jove, a beautiful adventurer who travels the world and was blessed by fairies.  Ming holds on to the hope of being found by Auntie Jove.

Sol wants to make Ming a treehouse, a place for her to escape, and she breaks into a junkyard to get materials but gets caught by the junkyard owner, who has a change of heart and showcases his artistic side. Similarly, she finds a friend in neighbour Mrs Yeung, a silent Chinese woman. Perhaps there is hope after all for the two girls.

Sol is a great character – spunky, driven, and independent. She’s also a fierce defender of her younger sister. And while she does some silly things like stealing popsicles from the store and breaking into the junkyard, she knows right from wrong, and knows that their living situation isn’t ideal but that as a child, she can hardly do anything about it.

I really liked this story about a young, lower-income, immigrant girl struggling to fit in. As an adult reader, I think I wanted the book to touch more on race and class issues. But if I had been reading this as a 10-year-old I would have enjoyed this a lot, the way it brings in a bit of fantasy into reality.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Immigrant MC.

See the rest of my TBR list here

Find out more details about the challenge here.

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#AsianLitBingo – Girls Burn Brighter

 

Goodness this was an intense read.

Poornima is the daughter of a weaver, who makes cotton saris that their region is known for. After her mother dies of cancer, her father is unable to produce enough saris. Poornima is in charge of the household chores and takes care of her younger siblings. At first he is unable to find anyone willing to work the looms. It is 2001 and weaving doesn’t bring in much money anymore, so he has no choice but to hire Savitha, who also is from the weaver caste.

While Poornima feels like her family is poor, she realizes they are well-off compared to Savitha. Before this new job, Savitha earned a little bit of money by scrounging for discarded paper and plastic in the garbage dumps. It took  her three days of rubbish collecting just to make twenty rupees. Her mother cleans houses, her younger sisters help dig through garbage and her father begs.

She remembered her mother saying once, as they passed them, “Don’t look,” and Poornima had not known whether she meant at the cemetery or at the children scrambling up the heaps. But now, standing in Savitha’s impoverished hut, and with her mother long dead, she thought she understood. Her mother had said don’t look and she’d meant don’t look at either the cemetery or the garbage heaps. She’d meant, don’t look at death, don’t look at poverty, don’t look at how they crawl through life, how they wait for you, stalk you, before they end you.

They become good friends. They eat their meals together and Poornima even visits Savitha’s home.

Obviously their futures aren’t exactly bright. Poornima, with her darker skin, is considered unattractive and there is barely hope for a decent arranged marriage. She gets an offer from a family but the signs aren’t good – she doesn’t get to meet her groom until the wedding itself and the family demands even more money – money that they don’t have.

For Savitha, an act of violence destroys her and she runs away from the village. And it seems like the two friends will now be separated forever.

Poornima’s married life is well, horrifying really. And she decides to go in search of Savitha.

What a brilliant debut novel. It’s full of emotion and vivid depictions of poverty in India. It is not an easy read – there is abuse, both mental and physical and sexual. There is so much pain and poverty. But Rao brings in some small moments of joy, such as Savitha’s delight in eating yogurt rice with a banana.

I read for Asian Lit Bingo – Poor or Working Class Asian MC

Find out more details about the challenge here.

#AsianLitBingo – The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

 

The Journey to the West made-in-China TV series was quite a big part of my childhood in 1980s Singapore.

The acting was very overly dramatic as Chinese TV series in that period (maybe it still is today – I haven’t watched any new ones), the make-up and special effects horrendous (although probably quite good for its time), and probably just really cheesy. But as a kid, I lapped it all up. I can’t be entirely sure but this may have been a Sunday showing. And on Sunday evenings we could be found at my paternal grandparents’ house, where the cousins and aunts and uncles all gathered. The adults would eat at the big dinner table, the kids would grab our dishes and eat on the front patio. Then we would all watch TV. My grandparents didn’t speak much English, in fact my grandmother didn’t really speak Mandarin and instead spoke a Chinese dialect called Hokkien, which I didn’t really speak. But I think we all would sit down together to watch Journey to the West and all the other Chinese TV shows that would be screened on Sunday evenings.

And that’s where I learnt about Sun Wukong (the monkey king), Zhu Bajie (part-human part-pig), Tang Sanzang (the monk), and Sha Wujing (an exiled Imperial Guard) as they traveled to obtain… ok I have no idea what the journey is about, I just remember that they always got into some trouble with yaoguai (demons) and there would be fighting and whatnot.

So it was an absolute delight for me when I learnt that this legend was incorporated into this YA book.

Eugenia “Genie” Lo is just one hell of a feisty character:

“What you get from me is jack and squat, regardless of whether or not you understand. Ming bai le ma, dickhead?”

She’s a 16-year-old Chinese-American who learns that she’s the reincarnation of the Ruyi Jingu Bang, the magical staff wielded by Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.

Yes somehow a staff has become a human. Crazy, fun, but so is this book.

And it turns out that Quentin, the new kid in school, is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.

That however means nothing to Genie.

“You’re Chinese and you don’t know me?” he sputtered. “That’s like an American child not knowing Batman!”

“You’re Chinese Batman?”

“No! I’m stronger than Batman, and more important, like — like. Tian na, how do you not know who I am?”

I love how Yee has blended this Chinese legend with American high school life. It’s charming, just hilarious, and such a rolling good time of a read. Also there are demons.

 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – SFF with Asian MC.

See the rest of my TBR list here

#AsianLitBingo : Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Keiko Ishida has always been so thoughtful and well liked. I didn’t think anyone could hate her enough to kill her in such a gruesome way. Or was I wrong about her? If I had made an effort to understand my sister, could I have changed her fate?

It was too late for these questions to matter. Keiko Ishida had fallen into an irreversible sleep. Even a tsunami couldn’t wake her from her eternal dream.

A subtle and quiet book set in Japan, Rainbirds opens with Ren Ishida in a car, clutching an urn, inside of which were the ashes of his 33-year-old sister, who was murdered, stabbed in the small town of Akakawa.

Keiko Ishida worked as a cram school teacher in Akakawa and Ren, who also studied the same subjects as her, takes over her teaching position temporarily and even resides in the same small room. He slowly begins to find out more about the life of his sister, whom he hadn’t seen in seven years and who was several years older than him. There was always a hint of the melancholic about her.

My sister didn’t seem to hear me. Looking out the window, she said, “Remember this, Ren. Sadness alone can’t harm anyone. It’s what you do when you’re sad that can hurt you and those around you.”

Rainbirds may open with a murder but it isn’t exactly a whodunnit. The author doesn’t rush into details or push suspects into view or leave red herrings. Instead it’s a gentle and strange wander into life in this small town, as he meets Keiko’s colleagues, landlord, and strikes up friendships. Among all this are strange dreams that Ren has, dreams he cannot forget and which haunt him.

Rainbirds is an unusual read. I came into it knowing that the author lives in Singapore, is originally from Indonesia, and has set this book in Japan. But I didn’t know what to expect from this debut novel. So I was intrigued to find the prose had a Japanese flair, the pace gentle but with a good rhythm, and the secrets aplenty and waiting to be unraveled.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Contemporary with Asian MC.

#AsiannLitBingo – Such a Lovely Little War by Marcelino Truong

A beautifully illustrated graphic memoir of a young French-Vietnamese boy living in Vietnam with his family during the 1960s.

Marcelino Truong’s father worked as a translator for Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem in the 1960s. The family moves from the US, where they had been living for the past three years, to Vietnam. I’m not sure how old the three kids are but they look between the ages of 6 to 12. Their mother is French and their father Vietnamese.

It’s fascinating seeing the Vietnam war through the eyes of this young boy, upper-class, who lives in a nice apartment with servants to help his mother do housework and drive them around.

And more unusual for that time, whether in Vietnam or the US, a biracial family,

I may be from Southeast Asia (Singapore), but we never learnt anything much about the Vietnam War in school. I’ve since then read some books about it but I’ve learnt from this graphic memoir too, especially about Madame Nhu, the de facto First Lady at the time (the Prime Minister was a lifelong bachelor and she was his sister-in-law). She pushed for “morality laws” like banning divorce, abortions, dance halls, boxing matches.

Truong has a beautiful illustration style. The images look a little like woodcuts.

He occasionally includes drawings from his childhood, letters from his mother to his grandparents in France.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – multiracial/multiethnic Asian MC. Find out more details about the challenge here.

#AsianLitBingo wrap-up

Boy did this challenge fly by.

I loved pushing myself to read – and more importantly, review! – these books in a month!

Here’s what I read. All are #ownvoices

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkataraman 

 Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen  (South East Asian MC)

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (Retelling with Asian MC)

The Boy in the Earth by Fuminori Nakamura (Translated Work by an Asian Author)

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee  (SFF with Asian MC)

Malice by Keigo Higashino (East Asian MC)

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Multiethnic Asian MC)

Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fatah (Asian Muslim MC)

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam  (LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC)

 Goat Days by Benjamin (Poor or working class Asian MC)

Ms Marvel: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa (Artist), Adrian Alphona (Artist) (Asian Superhero MC)

Turning Japanese by MariNaomi (Graphic novel with Asian MC)

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi (Central Asian MC)

The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui (Asian Refugee MC)

#AsianLitBingo – Bright Lines

It is not an easy thing, describing this book. A family saga? An immigrant story? A bildungsroman?

All of this and more?

However you’d like to group it under, there is no doubt that this was an ambitious book. A book filled with larger than life characters. A book full of energy and colour and spirit.

It is 2003 and Ella, home from college, sneaks into the Brooklyn house of her aunt Hashi and uncle Anwar.

Ella is the adopted daughter, technically the niece. Her parents died in Bangladesh when she was very young. She’s at a crossroads in life. As is her sister Charu (Anwar’s daughter), about to head to NYU. Charu thinks herself an entrepreneur/designer, making hijabs out of unusual cloth for sale. Ella has also had a bit of a crush on Charu for quite a while now.

Anwar owns an apothecary, selling homemade beauty products, and Hashi runs a beauty salon out of their home.

And add to this mix Charu’s friend Maya, the daughter of a strict religious cleric, who has run away from home and is staying with them. It just so happens that Maya’s father is the very man whose storefront Anwar rents.

It’s a summer of love and relationships of the ‘forbidden’ kind, ‘forbidden’ more because of the culture and religion that they grew up in. Ella has her own awakening about her sexual and personal identity that is both brave and beautiful.

A bright, effervescent book about self-discovery and belonging. The lush verdant settings of New York and Bangladesh, and the detailed lives of the characters allow the reader to know them well and definitely made me think about how their lives are like now that the book has ended. Always a sign of a  good read and an excellent writer.

 
I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC.