By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Sarah Kuhn
DAW Books Inc., 2016
Evie Tanaka has one of the most difficult jobs in San Francisco. As the personal assistant to a diva superheroine, she spends her days handling everything her childhood best friend Aveda Jupiter — self-appointed guardian of the Golden Gate City — throws at her. From epic tantrums to demon blood-soaked clothing, Evie does it all.
The rest of her life, however, is a hot mess.
She struggles with standing up for herself and is in constant battle with the teenaged sister she’s been left to raise.
Evie is (mostly) happy with her life, but all of that changes when Aveda is sidelined and Evie is forced to take her place. Before she knows it, she finds herself facing catty gossip bloggers, an increasingly jealous best friend-slash boss, and a supernatural battle against the demons of the Otherworld.
And oh yeah, it turns out, Evie has super powers of her own.
While Evie, who is half Japanese, may start out as a sidekick, she has her own story. She is a complex character with her own thoughts, feelings, and fear, all with a little dash of sass and attitude. As the story progresses, we see her grow and come to terms with her own power (super and otherwise) and learns to stand up for herself.
“Heroine” is filled with strong Asian American females readers can look up to. From Aveda, who is Chinese and has no qualms about going after what she wants, when she wants it, to Evie’s 16-year-old sister Bea, who has strength and wisdom beyond her years, the characters are not only taking action, they’re saving the world.
Kuhn also does a good job at highlighting the relationship between Evie and Aveda. Having known each other since they were in kindergarten, their relationship is a co-dependent, imbalanced, and somewhat dysfunctional one. But even when the status quo gets shaken, the two are able to deal with it and come back together to do what they need to do — all without losing sight of their friendship.
By Karen Bao
Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016
After escaping an almost certain death on the moon, Phaet Theta is now a fugitive, hiding in plain sight on Earth. Living with her friend Wes’ family, she learns that not everything she was taught growing up on the Lunar Bases was true and that “Earthbound” people are not as dangerous as she was led to believe.
Her peace is disrupted when the Committee — the governing body on the moon — discovers she is alive on Earth. The village of St. Odan, where she has been living, is attacked and the danger Phaet and Wes previously escaped has now caught up with them.
In this sequel to “Dove Arising,” we see Phaet struggle with the guilt she feels once she discovers how dire things have become on the moon after she left. Her actions may have been the catalyst to a brewing revolution, but the growing rebellions have not gone unchecked and lives have been lost.
Phaet discovers all of this once she returns to the moon and becomes even more determined to not only save her brother and sister, but bring down the Committee and their heavy-handed law enforcement, the Militia.
Despite this determination, at 16 years old, Phaet is still not sure how much of an impact she can make — especially when it seems that the Lunar people have turned her into a symbol of hope and a leader of the movement. But these doubts, as well as the growing guilt she feels for leaving the moon, do not stop Phaet from doing what she believes is right and from saving her siblings.
As this is the second in Bao’s Dove Chronicles, much of the expository has been taken care of and it is much more action packed, from the battle on Earth to Phaet and her ragtag team’s daring attempt to rescue her brother.
Like its predecessor, “Dove” is filled with strong characters, in addition to Phaet, as they all learn to work together — despite their difference of opinions — toward a common goal.
Sarong Party Girls
By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
William Morrow, 2016
At 26 going on 27, Jazzy and her girlfriends Imo and Fann are close to becoming spinsters — at least by Singaporean standards.
So in hopes of avoiding such a fate, Jazzy hatches a plan and strategy for the three of them with one goal in mind: landing an ang moh — or Western expat — husband. This will then lead them to the ultimate status symbol: a Chanel (or half white) baby.
While some people would say a marriage should be based on love, Jazzy approaches it like a business venture — and at times, like war (even referencing Sun Tzu of “The Art of War” fame). From the reconnaissance work she and her friends do to scope out the competition and study ang mohs in their (somewhat) natural habitats, to the strict deadlines she sets for them, she leaves little room for actual romance. But this does lead to much hilarity as the trio encounter a number of situations they are not prepared for.
On the surface, Jazzy may be a gold-digger. But as her quest toward marriage moves forward, we see why she is so determined. She and her friends are looking for a way to move up in the world and avoid the same fate as their mothers, who are either in unhappy relationships or have to live with a husband with a second family. As modern as Singapore may seem, Tan shows readers how the country is still very traditional when it comes to gender roles and upward mobility for women is still very much tied to their relationships with men.
In addition to Jazzy’s adventures and antics around Singapore, Tan really gives readers a feel for the city in that the story is told in Singlish — Singaporean English with very specific slang and turns of phrase.
The language is a character in and of itself and while initially may throw readers off, Tan balances it in such a way that we readers can really get to know Jazzy and hear her distinct voice as she shares her story.
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.