By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Karen Bao
Phaet Theta, a teenage girl of Chinese descent who has grown up on a colony on the moon, has only known one way of life, one of strict rules, military-like police and the law enforcement and the Committee — their governing body — watching over citizens through audio receptors in implanted hand-screens.
After her father died about nine years ago, Phaet (pronounced like fate) has barely spoken, relying on her best friend Umbriel to speak for her. She spends most of her time staying off the government’s radar, cultivating plants in Greenhouse 22.
But then her mother is arrested and all of a sudden, 15-year-old Phaet has to step up and figure out a way to take care of her two younger siblings.
The only way she sees to do this is to enlist in the Militia, the colony’s law enforcement entity. Once she enters training, Phaet must work extra hard to make it to the top of her class in order to secure the highest ranking, and as a result, the highest paycheck.
At the beginning of “Dove,” Phaet is nearly mute, but as the story progresses, she learns to use her voice — both literally and figuratively, as she begins to stand up for herself and the injustices she sees around her.
Phaet is a strong character who will do anything for her family — even sacrifice her dream of becoming a plant biologist. And as she learns more about the Militia and the Committee, she works even harder to keep everyone safe.
But Phaet is not the only strong character. Bao introduces readers to a cast of multifaceted characters. From Wes, Phaet’s ally and competition in training, to her younger brother Cygnus and younger sister Anka, to Jupiter, her nemesis in training, all of the people in Phaet’s life are headstrong and focused on their specific goals — whether it be for good or bad.
All of this makes for a much richer story and will have readers anxious to see what happens in the next installment of Bao’s Dove Chronicles.
A Map of Betrayal
By Ha Jin
Following her parents’ deaths, Lilian Shang sets out to learn more about her father Gary, who had been convicted decades earlier of being a mole in the CIA and spying for China.
Delving into her father’s diary, which were kept safe by Gary’s mistress of many years, Lilian learns about the man her father really was. One of the biggest surprises she discovers is that her father was not only caught between two countries, but two families as well. Realizing Gary had been forced to leave his wife behind in China, Lilian discovers she could have half siblings in her father’s home country.
Following her father’s trail, Lilian travels to China in search of the Chinese half of her family.
“Map” jumps between the present day, as Lilian seeks out her long-lost relatives and Gary’s double life in the United States.
While much of the story is about a daughter trying to get to know and understand the father she has lost, not much is shown of their relationship. Instead, Jin focuses on the present when the story is told from Lilian’s point of view. She finds and meets her relatives fairly early in the story, which I appreciated as a reader because we get to see how these new relationships develop and grow. So many stories focus on a character’s journey to find these potentially new people in their lives and ends with them just meeting. Jin gives readers a chance to actually meet these individuals and get to know them alongside Lilian.
Jin’s portrayal of Gary’s life paints a picture of a man in pain. While he remains loyal to China, he has also learned to love his adopted country. He longs to go home to be with his first family, but he knows he cannot abandon his American wife and daughter. As readers, we sympathize and empathize with Gary, as we also wish he could see his first wife and children just once.
Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng
Penguin Press, 2014
It’s a typical weekday morning in the Lee household. Father James has left for work and mother Marilyn is preparing breakfast for her oldest son Nathan and youngest daughter Hannah. As the meal continues, the trio realize that Lydia, the middle daughter — who has her white mother’s blue eyes and her Chinese father’s black hair and is their favorite child — has still not gotten out of bed. But when Marilyn goes to wake her up, she finds her daughter’s room empty and the bed neatly made.
And then Lydia’s body is found in a local lake a few days later.
Her death disrupts the family’s delicate balance and spins everyone into chaos. James falls down a path that could destroy his marriage, Marilyn is hell-bent on finding whoever was responsible for Lydia’s death, and Nathan is convinced Jack, the local bad boy living down the street, is involved. But what none of them realizes is that it’s Hannah, still in elementary school and often ignored or forgotten by all, who sees everything and may know what really happened to her sister.
“Everything” is the story of a family living in small-town Ohio in the 1970s. On the surface, things may seem fine, but the events following Lydia’s death show that they weren’t. We see that each character has their own struggles — from James’ desire to blend in after a childhood of being mocked for his heritage, to Marilyn pushing her dreams of becoming a doctor onto Lydia (not realizing her daughter may not share that dream), to Nathan living in Lydia’s shadow despite accomplishing a number of impressive feats himself.
“Everything” shows readers how quickly a life can change and how easily the little things that bother us can pile up. Told through the eyes of all members of the Lee family, Ng shows us that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard and we should never be afraid to stand up for ourselves. (end)
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.