By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya”
By Nagaru Tanigawa
Little, Brown and Company, 2010
Although this is the fourth Haruhi Suzumiya installment, this particular plot does not feature the title character as much as in previous stories.
Told from Kyon’s point of view, the adventure begins when he wakes up one day to find himself in an alternate universe in which there is no SOS Brigade (Save the world by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya).
Haruhi and esper Itsuki Koizumi attend another school, alien Yuki Nagato is a real girl, and time traveler Mikuru Asahina doesn’t even recognize Kyon — the only person aware of the change.
Therefore, Kyon is the only one who can change it back.
As Kyon runs around (and goes back in time) in a blind panic to return the world back to its normal state — or as normal a world dependent on one girl’s happiness can be — he realizes he has been given a choice of whether to revert to his old world or stay in the new world.
As with the last three Haruhi books, I really enjoyed “Disappearance.”
One of my favorite parts comes when Kyon realizes how much he truly enjoys the SOS Brigade, despite his constant grumbling and complaining. I thought this was great character development for him.
Kyon is now conscious of why he allows himself to be dragged into all the misadventures that Haruhi leads the brigade into. He is now learning that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
I also liked how the story’s time traveling moments overlap with previous stories, although you can still read “Disappearance” on its own. The series has been anything but linear, or chronological.
However, this is what I really admire about it. The complicated plots encourage readers to think about what they’re reading and use logic to figure things out.
But I have to say that my favorite part of “Disappearance” is the moment Kyon discovers who is responsible for the shift in the world. I was pleasantly surprised.
“Girl in Translation”
By Jean Kwok
Riverhead Books, 2010
Kimberly Chang has only one talent, that of doing well in school.
And when she and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, she is determined to use that talent to get them out of the abject poverty that they were unknowingly brought into by her aunt Paula. Kimberly refuses to allow language and cultural barriers to stand in her way.
Spanning the time she arrives in the United States at age 11 to the time she is an adult, “Girl in Translation” follows Kimberly’s life as she adjusts to her adopted country.
One of the most common themes in Asian American literature is moving to a new country and straddling the line between two different cultures. “Girl” is no different.
But what I can say is that Kimberly is a protagonist who I truly admire. She goes nearly a decade living a double life as a scholarship student at an exclusive college preparatory school and an immigrant working in a sweatshop for pennies to pay rent for a roach-infested, no-heat apartment.
Along the way, Kimberly meets Annette, a well-off white girl from school, and Matt, a Chinese boy who works in the same clothing factory as Kimberly and her mother. What begins as simple friendship grows into something more complicated. Kimberly works to hide her poverty from Annette and develops romantic feelings for Matt.
In addition to Kimberly, I really admired Annette and Kimberly’s mother. The former stands by Kimberly throughout the story. The latter does the same — especially when her daughter is forced to choose between love and finally getting out of their dire situation.
While some may not like the ending, I liked it especially. It’s unexpected, yet I feel the way things turned out for the characters is fitting.
“Digging to America”
By Anne Tyler
Alfred A. Knopf, 2006
The Yazdans have nothing in common with the Dickinson-Donaldsons. However, one fateful day ties these two families together forever.
It begins at the Baltimore airport, where Iranian American Maryam Yazdan, her son Sami, and his wife Ziba meet American Brad Donaldson, Bitsy Dickinson, and their extended family. Each family is waiting for the arrival of the Korean daughter they have adopted. After this day, they get together every year to celebrate the arrival, as well as other special occasions.
Although “Digging to America” is told from the point of view of members of each family, much of the story is focused on Maryam, who emigrated from Iran 35 years previously. However, she still feels like an outsider — even among her family. She is strong, independent, and takes care of herself after her husband passes away when Sami is a teenager. However, Maryam allows Dave Dickinson — Bitsy’s recently widowed father — past her walls, as they slowly form a romantic relationship.
Although the developing relationship is a very central aspect of the novel, “Digging” explores aspects of other characters’ lives as well. These include both couples’ triumphs and tribulations as newly adoptive parents, the cultural differences between the two families, and coping with a sick and dying parent.
Each character is complex and real, from highly misunderstood Maryam to 5-year-old Jin-Ho Dickinson-Donaldson.
This was what I really liked about “Digging.” When the story is told from their individual points of view, readers truly understand the characters. You feel for them, which does not always happen in books in which the perspective jumps from person to person. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.