By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Hitori Nakano
Del Ray Books, 2004
What would you do if you came across a cute girl (or guy) and had the opportunity to see them again, but didn’t know how to make it happen?
Most people would turn to their friends, but in the case of Nakano’s protagonist, he turns to the Internet.
After defending some women on a Tokyo train from an obnoxious drunk, the nameless protagonist immediately shares his experiences on an online message board of self-proclaimed geeks. He doesn’t think much of it until he receives a pair of Hermes teacups from the 20-something woman who had been sitting next to him on the train.
Train Man — as he soon comes to be known as — doesn’t know what to make of the gift and immediately turns to his online comrades. What follows is an ever-growing message board as the geeks respond to him.
Unfortunately, most of the chat room participants have very limited experience with the opposite sex. They are geeks, after all. Written in the form of Internet chat room threads, “Train Man” is an adorably hilarious case of the blind leading the blind.
The geeks, who remain anonymous throughout the story, do their best to help Train Man as he enters the dating world. They analyze everything that Train Man tells them, from the words in Hermes’ — as his love interest is referred to as — thank you letter, to what it means when she brings a close girlfriend along on one of their “dates.” The geeks even ask the cool guys from work for advice.
“Train Man” is an example of finding love and friendship in the most unlikely cases. As you read, you can’t help but cheer for Train Man in his adventures in dating and fall for the geeks as they do the same.
This story also proved something I’d known all along. Sometimes, it’s not the jock or the most popular guy who makes the best boyfriend.
“Under the Blood-Red Sun”
By Graham Salisbury
Dell Laurel-Leaf Books, 1994
I remember my elementary school librarian recommending “Under the Blood-Red Sun.” I also remember putting it on my list of books to read. But somehow, I never got around to it. So when I read Salisbury’s “House of the Red Fish,” the companion novel to “Sun,” I immediately went searching for the latter.
It took me some time, but I finally got my hands on a copy, and I have to say that it was well worth the wait.
The events in “Sun” take place right before and after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. In a world where anti-Japanese sentiments run high, eighth-grader Tomi Nakaji knew right away that the bombing would turn his life from bad to worse.
His father and grandfather are arrested, and it’s up to Tomi to be the man of the house and look after his mother and sister. At such a young age, Tomi and his friends are forced to grow up very quickly, finding jobs and taking over for the men in their family who have been arrested.
Salisbury’s portrayal of the struggles that these families face gives young readers a glimpse of what it’s like growing up during wartime. He doesn’t sugarcoat the truth. People are killed, families are separated, and neighbors turn on each other. But he also shows readers what really matters: family, friends, and being there for the ones we love.
“Sun” gives readers hope, and Tomi’s courage and perseverance to push through these troubled times is admirable. He often struggles with his feelings about what is happening to him and those around him, but he doesn’t lose faith that his father and grandfather will return home from the internment camps and that the family will reunite once again.
By Da Chen
Laura Geringer Books, 2008
Some people say we write our own destiny. Others say our destiny is written for us, waiting to be fulfilled.
For Miu Miu, it is the latter.
On her 15th birthday, she wakes up, not to the village matchmaker — as is customary for girls her age in ancient China — but to her mother telling her she must avenge her father’s death and kill the emperor in the faraway city of Chang’an.
Miu Miu receives even more startling news when she learns that she has also been betrothed to the son of her father’s apprentice. Miu Miu’s father, who was a swordsmith before his death, created two swords from a piece of iron delivered from Heaven, one for the emperor and one made in secret to destroy the evil and corrupt ruler.
As Miu Miu begins her journey, it quickly becomes clear that she is no ordinary girl. She is physically, emotionally, and mentally strong. She is a skilled martial artist, stubborn as a mule, and sticks to what she believes despite the consequences — even when that means death.
Along her journey, Miu Miu begins to question her destiny and wonders whether it is right for her, or anyone, to die for something that had nothing to do with her personally, saying, “The dead cannot be redeemed by the sacrifice of the living.”
In a time where honor and tradition are as important as life and death, Miu Miu’s words are not welcome, but she remains firm, which is hard to do with so many against her.
“Sword” is a grand adventure story filled with epic, one-on-one battles, magic, love, and romance. Miu Miu is a young woman to be admired for her bravery and strength of character as she faces challenges that go beyond anything she could have ever imagined. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.