By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf (Hobson & Choi: Case One)
By Nick Bryan
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014
On the first day of her work experience (similar to a job shadow or internship) at private detective John Hobson’s London office, 16-year-old Angelina Choi is asked to bring his business into the world of social media.
As a teenager, Facebook, Twitter and the like are a breeze. The only problem is the Korean adoptee’s first attempt to bring Hobson into the 21st Century works too well. Her campaign — if they get 400 followers, Hobson will solve a murder case for free — goes viral and before either of them knows it, they’re off trying to figure out who is letting some sort of wolfhound on the loose to kill people.
The pairing of a tech-savvy high school-aged girl and a middle-aged curmudgeon who doesn’t have time for such modern-day trappings as the Internet, is an unlikely one, but Bryan makes it work. With Angelina’s innocent naiveté always looking for the best in people and Hobson’s cynicism and skepticism always questioning, the two balance out each other’s personalities: She teaches him how to be sensitive and consider others’ feelings, while he shows her that not everything should be accepted at face value.
Although there are a couple of grisly murders throughout the story, Bryan balances this with the humor that comes with a teenaged girl interacting with a middle-aged man as they each try to understand the other’s world.
And just as they are a strong duo, they are equally strong individually.
Angelina is a strong young woman who stands up for herself and others, and is not afraid to do some investigating on her own. However, Bryan reminds us that she is still just a teenager through the interactions with her mother at home — going through the typical teenage rebellions of adolescence.
Hobson may seem like a grumpy old detective set in his ways, but the way he comes to treat Angelina as a surrogate daughter shows how he is willing to change and accommodate for others.
Eleanor & Park
By Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
The year is 1986. The month is August and 16-year-old Park Sheridan — a half-Korean, half-white boy living in Omaha, Neb. — boards the bus to school just like any other day. But this morning, things are a little different as a new girl gets on a couple stops later. With no one else welcoming her to join them, Eleanor Douglas — also 16 — is forced to sit next to the “stupid Asian kid.”
For the next few weeks, the two teens sit together on the bus in silence, sharing the bench only because no one else will sit next to them (this is high school, after all). Eventually, the two bond over comic books as Eleanor “eavesreads” whatever Park brings with him to read on the bus. From there, the two begin sharing their musical interests and soon friendship turns into romance and they are a couple.
As the new girl in school — with bright red hair, a full-figured body and patchwork outfits pieced together from the thrift shop — and almost the only non-white kid in school, Eleanor and Park are misfits in their community. But it is what makes them different that brings them together. For Eleanor, Park and his family represent a safe haven that allows her to get away from an unstable household and abusive stepfather. For Park, Eleanor represents bravery and the courage to be different.
At 16, the two teens realize how fleeting love is and how unlikely it is for them to have found true love at such a young age. But that doesn’t stop them from hoping and giving it a try.
While Rowell shows, through her two protagonists, what it’s like to be in love for the first time and the hope and optimism that comes with that, she also doesn’t shy away from the heavier themes that the characters face such as racism and domestic abuse.
Night in Shanghai
By Nicole Mones
Mariner Books, 2015
In 1936, Thomas Greene, a black classical pianist living in the United States, is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of other black musicians.
His life changes almost overnight as he goes from having no money, living in a segregated Baltimore, to living in a mansion with his own servants.
Song Yuhua grew up refined and educated but finds herself bonded to a Shanghai crime boss to pay off her father’s gambling debts. While she appears to be submissive, Song actually risks her life by spying on her master for the rising Communist Party.
Song and Greene first meet after one of Greene’s performances, which Song attends with her master. But it isn’t until the Japanese invade Shanghai that they find their way back to each other and truly become close. As World War II continues, the two become separated as Greene continues with his music in the now-occupied Shanghai and Song travels north to fully join the Party.
“Night” is a story of two unlikely people who share a deep connection but due to circumstance, spend more time apart than they do together. And while this may not sound like much of a love story, Mones makes it work with the moments when the two do reunite.
In addition to Greene and Song’s story, “Night” is also the story of a city torn apart by war.
Based on true events with appearances from real historical individuals, Mones shows us a glimpse of what life had been like during that time.
Having not known much about the Japanese occupation of China during that time, “Night” also served as a brief history lesson for me — including a piece of little-known Holocaust heroism — set against the backdrop of jazz music.
From a forbidden love story, to a bit of mystery and intrigue, to a little dose of history, “Night” has a little bit of everything for everyone. (end)
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.