American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: YA lit, Asian lit

Synopsis: Mei is everything her parents want her to be, and everything her brother is not. Nice, obedient, going to an Ivy-league school a year early, and in the medical field. The problem is…the medical field really, really grosses her out. And she likes someone who’s Japanese, not Chinese. But the more she tries to keep these secrets, the more she feels pressured to be someone she’s not. But what will her mother say?

Review: This was a great story about the struggles of meeting not only your parents’ standards, but your own as well. Mei has entered an Ivy-league college a year early, and has entered into the medical program, per her parents’ wishes. Unfortunately for her, anything to do with germs sends her reeling for some hand sanitizer. Not only that, but her potential confidant–her brother, who is also a doctor–is the one person she can’t talk to. Not ever since he decided to continue seeing a woman against his parents’ wishes.

But Chinatown is small, and word gets out.

Mei is an upstanding character, ready to take on…well, maybe not the world–there’s too many germs there. But her parents? Yeah, she can take them. After all, parents are supposed to care for you and love you unconditionally…right?

As she struggles through her complicated emotions to those who cared for her, she must also try to find herself and decide just what she likes and dislikes. And perhaps, along the way, she can escape the cycle in which her own mother is entrapped. Her mother might smile, but Mei certainly won’t. Not when it’s her personal freedom and general feeling of safety on the line. But the sources of her support are forbidden, and another source of support would be acceptable…if she hadn’t taken on the superstitious performance name of a castaway Chinese girl.

Overall, this was a fun book, and just reminiscent enough of my first year at college. All those wonders, those sights, the classes, the superstitions…though quite different from my own experience, it rings of the universal experience of learning what it takes to be your own person.


My Mad Fat Diary by Rae Earl

My Mad Fat Diary

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis: Rae Earl is in high school and wants nothing more than to have a boyfriend. The problem? She’s fat. And she really, really likes food. With late nights at the pub, her mum’s on-again-off-again diets, and catty best friends, she wonders if it’s even worth it to get skinny.  She wonders if maybe, just maybe, there’s somebody out there who will like her just the way she is.

Review: I never watched the series, so when I saw that it was originally a memoir…y’all know I jumped on it. Rae Earl is utterly hilarious, among poignant, unabashed, and a truly wonderful writer. As she catalogs one of her high school years, she shares with us all the taunts, gossip, and mayhem that surrounds her in both her private life and public life. She attends secret raves, cheers failed diets, and gets utterly pissed at the pubs.

And what a high school year it is! Though our experiences of it are vastly different–her writing this in 1989, and me finishing it in 2012, her being fat, and me just rather average, her living in the UK, and me in the US…it’s relatable. It’s honest. It’s telling. The passages where she bemoans her crushes after listening to music, the poetry she writes…I wonder if modern day Rae Earl is hugely embarrassed by this or if she’s learned to say, “fuck it all!”

Either way, she certainly got her last laugh at her high school tormentors with this book and hit tv series…

Overall, this was just laugh-out-loud riotous, and filled with the exact amount of longing and angst that any teenage girl experiences.

Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco


Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: French Lit, Plays

Synopsis: It all begins normally enough–two friends meet at a cafe one morning, and their conversation gets rather distracted when they hear a large crash. Looking to where it must have come from, they realize that not only did the crash come from a rhinoceros, but that the rhinoceros is…their friend? Suddenly, news of a plague turning people in rhinoceroses sweeps the town shocking the pair. Will it stop? Who will be next? And why is it happening?

Review: For fans of Kafka, The Stand, or any sort of other plague/virus/unbeknownst thing that’s taking over the world, this is the perfect pandemic read. Filled with absurdism and riotous imagery, Rhinoceros is a glimpse at keeping up with the Joneses, and trying not to let yourself get carried away with your virtues and vices…

Overall, I found this to be entertaining–though I did have to use SparkNotes to help me out…reading an absurdist play in another language is quite daunting!  Yet it tested me, made me laugh out loud, and certainly put things into perspective.

Deathless #1: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA lit, fantasy, afrofantasy, ARC

Synopsis: Deka has been looking forward to the blood ceremony for all her life.  She’s sure her blood will run clean–why wouldn’t it?  But when her blood runs gold, she’s killed countless of times and escapes her village with the help of White Hands, a woman sent to recruit demons like Deka to help fight against the deathshrieks.  But there’s something that White Hands isn’t telling her, and Deka can tell she’s different than the other demons.  She has too many questions and not enough time to answer them.  Will she look to her ancestors for guidance, or the ancient goddesses?

Review: For fans of Nnedi Okorafor’s The Shadow Speakers, look no further for your next read.  Deka’s blood runs gold at the blood ceremony, and she is no longer counted as a villager.  Her father turns away and the village leader attempts to kill her many times.  Fire, bloodletting, dismemberment–none of it works.  It only brings her to a gilded sleep which she wakes up from every time.  So when White Hands arrives at her village and offers her the choice to be an alaki, a demon near-immortal warrior or to wait until the villagers have found her final death, she chooses the former.  At least then she will have a place to go.

Deka finally meets others like her at the expensive of difficult training, of the knowledge that she will die again and again, even with the powers that make her unnatural–even within the unnatural.  But throughout hardships, she forms familial bonds with other girls in the military, and rely upon one another to discuss their hardships during and prior their training.  When they start fighting the deathshrieks, however, those bonds are tugged and pulled as Deka continues to realize that she is somehow just not like the others.  Why can she talk to the deathshrieks?  Why do her eyes turn black?  Why can nobody else do these things?

Forna has written an absolutely fantastic debut novel that hits all of my checkboxes.  Afrofantasy?  Check.  Death?  Check.  An emphasis on how powerful and important women are?  CHECK.

This was difficult to set down.  It was a world built like no other–Forna has clearly thought through the histories, the culture, the magic that encapsulates our hero.  I have a feeling that we’ve only just hit the tip of the iceberg, and I’m so excited to see where this goes when her second book comes out.  I can’t wait to read it, I can’t wait to purchase this book, I can’t wait to tell everyone about it.  Don’t miss this book.  It’s horrific, endearing, funny, and something that’s been missing from my bookshelf for a long, long time.

From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon

From Twinkle with Love

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: YA lit, Asian American literature

Synopsis: Twinkle wants nothing more than to be a ground-breaking female director.  And Neil’s girlfriend.  But when her high school puts on a media show, she agrees to break the mold and direct something with Neil’s twin brother–Sahil–as a producer.

Review: What a fantastic book!  Written in diary format and to iconic female directors, Twinkle finishes up her last few months of her junior year in high school.  She’s pining over Neil, she wants to work on her hard skills, and she’s struggling over losing her best friend’s attention to the popular girls in school.  But when Sahil, Neil’s twin brother, offers to produce a film project for the end of school creative project, she agrees to finally put herself out there and do what she’s always dreamed about doing.

Her new film project is helping her regain her best friend and is helping her realize that maybe Sahil is the right twin for her, and not Neil.  But the closer it is to finalization, the more her ego rises.  She’s recruited her best friend and other popular girls, everyone is finally admiring her talent, and she now has the opportunity to make something absolutely groundbreakig and truthful.  But what if the truth ends up destroying friendships?  Maybe it’s better to be less mercilessly honest and to let bygones be bygones.  Who knows–it’s a hard lesson to learn.

I found this book to be so fun and engaging, especially as Twinkle struggles with her school, personal, professional, and love lives all at once.  It’s a true representation of being a creative in high school and not having originated in the limelight. Menon allows her characters to be geeky in their own ways and to live and learn, even when the going gets hard, which I hugely appreciate.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book–especially now that it’s getting to be the summer.  It’s a feel good novel with just the right amount of tension and drama.

Trésor by Lucie Durbiano


Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: French literature, graphic novel

Synopsis: Christine is smart but naive.  Unaware that her father’s assistant is in love with her, and unaware that Jean, the man she likes is after her father’s treasure, Christine’s life gets turned upside down when emotions rule a strategic con game.

Review: If you want something similar to a Rom-Com Indiana Jones, look no further!  With a love square and a treasure hunt, Tresor makes for a fun little romp throughout a university, the city, and the forest.  Alliances change, love gets turned on its head, and Christine and her professor father are blissfully unaware of everyone’s true motives until it’s almost too late.

I love the art style, I think it’s cute and is so much fun.  The narrative, on the other hand, is as simplistic as the art style, which is not necessarily a good thing.  It was great for me, who’s still working on immediate comprehension and retention of French language narratives, but I think it might be a little lackluster for those more familiar with the language and treasure-hunt stories.  However, that didn’t negate that it was overall fun, and filled with drama at every turn.

The Land of Elyon #1: The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman

The Dark Hills Divide

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, fantasy

Synopsis: Every year, twelve-year-old Alexa Daley joins her father to the town of Bridewell, where every year, her father gives her one simple rule: do not try to find a way beyond the walls.  So naturally, every year she tries her hardest.  But this year is different.  She’s found a way beyond the walls and has been tasked with a mission to discover an infiltrator that she can tell absolutely no one about.

Review: I read this series when I was much younger and thought that I may as well give it another go!  Usually with series–especially fantasy series–there’s a scene or two that really sticks out to me and makes me want to reread it, to see if it still holds up.  The scene I remembered was the imprisonment Pervis, the city’s chief of police–he’s frequently drunk, and upon his imprisonment he has a nasty hangover involving a bucket and a couple pauses to vomit.  As a kid who hated vomit more than anything, this was nightmare fuel.  But as an adult, I mean…been there, minus the imprisonment.

Reading this as a child and then an adult was utterly fascinating.  Alexa is so young, Pervis is nowhere as old as I thought he was, and oh my god, how is Alexa not traumatized by Warvold just flat out dying next to her?  That being said, these differences made, well, all the difference, and certainly made for a nostalgic and fun re-reading experience.

When Alexa Daley goes to Bridewell with her father, as is tradition every summer, she uses her free to time to try to continue to find a way outside of a wall.  But this year, the city’s founder has died, she’s learning more about engraved jewels, and discovers the magic that’s lurking in the hills.  What could possibly go wrong?  What history is true, and what hasn’t been discovered yet?

As Alexa attempts to put all the pieces together, she realizes that time is running out, as there’s an infiltrator in the town of Bridewell who is about to unleash a fury of angry convicts, threatening to destroy everything she and the townspeople have known and loved.

Overall, I truly enjoyed rereading it.  With talking animals, councils, and inner-city politics, there’s certainly a lot to love.  It was a fun romp as an adult, but I’d certainly recommend this to children who don’t mind mystery and fantasy intertwined, and who appreciate a slow burn.

Stranger in the Mirror by Allen Say

Stranger in the Mirror

Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: Children’s literature, picture book

Synopsis: Eight year old Martin looks in the mirror one morning and discovers that over the course of one night, he has grown eighty years!  What will he do?

Review: I felt a little confused by this book, if I’m to be honest.  If I rack my brain, I can assume that there’s something to be said that there is respect to be had for our elders, and that though we should treat them with respect, we shouldn’t treat them as though they’re helpless.

When Martin wakes up one morning and discovers that he has grown 80 years in the course of one night, he’s at a total loss.  His sister doesn’t recognize him, his parents take him to doctors to no avail, and his classmates won’t play with him.  He’s lonely, he retreats, and there’s no cure in sight.

While Say’s illustrations are as beautiful as ever, this story didn’t quite hit the same as some of his other works.  To me, it didn’t feel as impactful, or even as important as his other works.

Float by Anne Carson


Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Poetry

Synopsis: A compilation of multiple chapbooks to be read in any order; some commissioned, some not, but all classical and evocative.

Review: I pounced on this years ago when I worked at [REDACTED] bookstore–it was expensive, and so so worth it.  Carson is a master poet and author, and this compilation of chapbooks only proves it.  These chapbooks can be read in any order, and range from 2 pages to 40 or so, some are mini-plays, some are lists, some are translations, and they are all beautiful.  Carson’s experience as a classicist shines through, and her hard work intermingled with her talent makes for something effervescent and absolutely grabbing.

It’s hard to gather one solid opinion, as the chapbooks were so incredibly different.  But overall, it would be truthful to say that every piece of writing offers a new way of looking at the world, of interpreting media, of breathing.  Her poems are like air to me–I need them to survive.

A Girl, A Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young, illustrated by Jessixa Bagley

A Girl A Raccoon and the Midnight Moon

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle grade literature, fantasy

Synopsis: Nobody loves the library more than Pearl.  So when she and her librarian mother go to work and Pearl discovers that the statue of Edna St. Vincent Millay has been beheaded, Pearl’s scream brings more visitors than ever to the library.  But the library hasn’t been renovated in years and their circ numbers are down.  Some think that it’d be better off as a low-income housing complex.  But Pearl dissents, and she must use her ingenuity to create a story in order to make the library appear to others what it already is to her–magical, important, a home.  But what is fiction in this library, and what is truth?

Review: I got this from the library because one of my friends and coworkers has a thing about raccoons.  And I have a thing about libraries, so what a pleasant surprise this book ended up being!  This incredible fantastic book borders the line between realism and fantasy, as the librarians must face more budget cuts, programming struggles, and the possibility of their building being torn down, as Pearl, the librarian’s daughter, discovers that the raccoons in the basement can actually read and write, and that The Midnight Moon, the raccoon-written nightly newspaper her mother told her about as stories before bed is actually…real?

This was a beautiful bridge between fiction and truth, reality and fantasy, of narrative and journalism.  As you begin the book, there’s one immediate mystery beyond the beheaded statue–and that is of who is writing the sidebars that occur nearly once per chapter?  Who is Mr. Nichols, really?  And what will Pearl’s mom and mother’s boyfriend/library director going to do if they lose their jobs?

As a librarian, I was enamored with this book.  Absolutely enamored.  I’ll likely buy this just so I can reread it over and over, it was that good.  Beyond even just the struggles that this library has, this book offers a poignant and beautiful view on many other important issues.  Such as the main struggle of the book: library versus low-income housing.  Is one better than the other?  Can one create a sense of community better than another?  Can a community benefit better with one or the other?  And what about those rooting on either side?  Clearly, as readers of this book we’re on the side of the librarians–but the architects and construction site workers are just doing their jobs.  What about them, whose income depends on city projects such as these?

And even more so, what do we do with the homeless community who so often frequent the library because it’s a warm place with free bathrooms, places to sit, and free entertainment?  At first I was a little apprehensive of Mr. Nichols, because homeless characters in literature, if they aren’t the main character–aren’t always treated with care.  But everyone in the book loved Mr. Nichols, save of course, for the main antagonist.  And what would happen to him if the library is torn down?  Who is he behind the homeless person stereotype?  And why is it absolutely imperative that we care?

And then we have issues of immigration, as Pearl’s rival and then best friend, Francine, has come to America and is living with her grandmother who lives above the main antagonist.  They live in a small, small apartment with some facilities that only kinda sorta work–but it’s the best they can do.

And then even the main antagonist’s worries–though they be for the wrong reasons–are understandable.  He wants the street his shop and the library is on to be better, to have a sense of community, for a “respectable” folk to visit.  Of course, his sense of what “respectable” is depends primarily on class and race–but Pearl certainly argues that knowledge is power and to have knowledge is to be respectable.

Overall, this book just tackles so many things–even animal cruelty, when addressing voyeurism and traps and releasing!  This book is simply incredible, and it blew my mind.

I loved all the characters, the drama, the way that the conflict and resolution were built in various manners through Pearl’s storytelling, omissions of truth, and relationships built around her school, administration, and community.  It’s something you certainly don’t want to miss out on.