By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends, 2016
Just when we thought the adventures of Cinder and her ragtag gang of Lunars, Earthlings, and nonhumans were finished, Marissa Meyer returns with a collection of six short stories from the Lunar Chronicles universe.
While all of these stories work as standalone tales, they offer readers a deeper look into the world Meyer has created — something longtime fans of the series can appreciate. The stories also add more background information and context to the characters we have come to know and love. We see the circumstances of Cinder, the cyborg mechanic’s arrival in New Beijing, Wolf’s transformation from a typical young Lunar boy to a deadly soldier for Queen Levana, how Princess Winter and palace guard Jacin Clay first became friends, and more. Meyer even gives us a peek into our favorite characters’ lives a few years after the great war against Levana.
In addition to giving us a better picture of Cinder, her cronies, and how they became who they are in the full-length novels, Meyer does a great job of expanding on seemingly minor anecdotes the characters mention and bring up throughout the series. We see how these stories they share with each other that seem insignificant actually shaped them, their values, and their beliefs. For example, we learn that Carswell Thorne comes by his flirtatious nature honestly, the one time it did not work in his favor, and who has affected him.
The Lunar Chronicles universe is expansive and complicated, with an array of characters — all with their own past and personalities. As is the case with any fictional universe, it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who. But Meyer succeeds in maintaining each character’s specific and unique qualities consistent throughout the series, as well as in these stories, giving readers a true ensemble of young women and men who truly complement each other and are greater together than the sum of all their parts.
“Japanese Eyes, American Heart Vol. II: Voices from the Home Front in World War II Hawaii”
By Hawaii Nikkei History Editorial Board, Edited by Gail Miyasaki
Watermark Publishing, 2012
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it pulled the United States into World War II. The attack also changed the lives of the Japanese and Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, as well as in Hawaii.
In “Japanese Eyes, American Heart,” dozens of islanders of Japanese ancestry — mostly nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) — share their personal stories of what happened to them and their families when the Japanese bombs hit, as well as what happened after. Some of the stories recall their experiences from childhood and young adulthood, while others actually tell the stories of their parents or older generations.
From families whose older generations were sent back to Japan or forced into internment camps, to students whose school lives were interrupted by the war, the stories show the hardship these people experienced and how they endured, survived, and, in many cases, even flourished.
While these stories all have similar themes, each one is unique as every family.
In reading stories about what happened to Japanese American citizens and their families during WWII, it is not uncommon to read about the prejudice, suspicion, and mistreatment they faced. This collection of vignettes also contain stories of human kindness — of neighbors helping neighbors, of American soldiers befriending Japanese families, and more. In a time when anyone who looked like the “enemy,” it was heartening to see there were those who were willing to look beyond the surface and not let fear overrule.
These stories may have taken place almost 75 years ago, but the themes of wanting to isolate and/or take away the rights of one group of people based on the fact that they share characteristics of those who want to hurt us, is not so different from current events.
“In the Country: Stories”
By Mia Alvar
From globe-trotting models to housemaids and teachers, everyone has a story to tell.
This is the theme of “In the Country.” As the title implies, this is a collection of stories — all of which follow men and women of the Philippines and its diaspora. Whether they are returning to the island nation to bid a final farewell to an ailing father after decades of living in the United States, or working as a teacher in Bahrain for a young special-needs girl, the characters in Alvar’s stories all have one thing in common: the need to connect with others and find a sense of home. For one reason or another, these men and women are in search of something more — some find it and some do not.
As the stories feature the people of the Philippines, readers also get a glimpse of what the Filipino people have gone through in the last few decades and the political turmoil the country has faced. We see how people have overcome these challenges — either by staying in the country or seeking a better life abroad.
While the stories in “In the Country” may not be particularly plot-driven, they are certainly character-driven.
Through her talent for storytelling, Alvar creates a bond between the reader and her characters that keeps us with them, makes us cheer for them, and makes us hope that they get what they need and want. Alvar’s characters exhibit the many facets of the human condition and will remind readers that regardless of how insignificant we may feel in the world, our lives all matter, we are all worthy, and we deserve to have our stories heard.
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.