By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Something in Between
By Melissa de la Cruz
Harlequin Teen, 2016
For her entire school career, Jasmine de los Santos has worked hard to get good grades with the hopes of getting scholarships to help pay for college.
And it works.
She receives a prestigious scholarship through the federal government that would pay for all four years at the college of her choice. But instead of being proud, Jasmine’s parents tell her she can’t accept the scholarship. Recipients either need to be U.S. citizens or have a green card. Having emigrated from the Philippines with her family when she was about 9 years old, Jasmine learns that her family’s visas expired and they are in the United States illegally.
The news of their undocumented status shatters Jasmine’s sense of identity. Having always considered herself American, she no longer knows how to identify herself and the threat of deportation has her family anxious about returning to a country that is no longer home.
To top it all off, Jasmine meets and becomes close to Royce Blakely, the son of a congressman who’s basically the spokesperson against an immigration reform bill that could give families like Jasmine’s a path to citizenship.
“Something” shows readers that there are many different ways to be American and that pursuing the American dream is not always possible. Despite all of their hard work and sacrifices, Jasmine’s parents are unable to find jobs that would allow them to obtain proper work visas and green cards. We see the struggles people go through to stay in this country and that they’re not so different.
De la Cruz also shows the damage bigoted rhetoric can cause as Jasmine’s younger brother becomes a target with some boys at his school once they find out their status. But she also shows the benefits of letting others know as Jasmine’s friends and members of the greater community come together to support her family and do what they can to help.
The Wangs vs. the World
By Jade Chang
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
After building a cosmetics empire that seemingly had him and his family set for life, Charles Wang loses it all. From the home his children grew up in, to their cars, everything gets repossessed and his American dream is broken.
With his world falling apart, Charles gets it into his head to go to China to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands. But before that happens, the immigrant businessman is determined to get all of his family together.
So he picks up Grace, his style-obsessed 16-year-old, from boarding school and Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, from college — both schools he can no longer afford. And together, with their stepmother Barbra, they set out on a cross-country road trip from Bel-Air to New York where Charles’ oldest daughter Saina lives as a former art world It girl.
As difficult and complicated as this may all sound, it gets worse as Andrew chooses romance in New Orleans over family and Barbra is one 1,000-thread-count sheet away from leaving. And on top of that, they’re driving cross-country in an old station wagon on its last legs.
Thanks to Charles’ success in business, the Wangs are a privileged bunch who are used to the finer things. Chang shows readers characters who defy Asian and Asian American stereotypes. The Wangs may be spoiled and entitled but they come together during this time of need and support each other — if initially begrudgingly.
And they are a family. Despite each of them seemingly living in their own world, when they get together the old family dynamics are still there: the three siblings giving each other a hard time while still being protective of each other; the father trying to get his three kids to obey him, and the stepmother trying to figure out where she fits in the picture.
By Peter Ho Davies
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Ah Ling, the son of a Chinese prostitute and a white man, is sent from his homeland to California to make his own path on the Gold Mountain.
Anna May Wong is the first Chinese film star in Hollywood but is still looked over and relegated to supporting roles, even in films about Chinese people.
Vincent Chin is beaten to death by two Detroit autoworkers who assume he is Japanese and blame him for their economic struggles.
John Ling Smith is a half-Chinese man who travels to China for the first time to adopt a baby girl.
“Fortunes” tells the stories of all four individuals’ as they try to make their way through a century of American history. While three of the four — Ling, Wong and Chin — are real-life historical figures, all of their stories are fictional as Davies weaves fact with fiction to capture what it means to be not just Chinese American, but American.
Despite the very different lives these characters lived, they all share the bond of being Asian American in a society in which that is seen as a deficit. Their stories may span 100 years but Davies shows that as far as we may have come as a society, there are still many strides to be made.
Throughout their lives, the four protagonists find themselves up against racism and racist stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, self doubt, and more. But they also display great amounts of courage and strength as they learn their own self worth and gain confidence to accept who they are.
Although “Fortunes” tells the very specific story of the Chinese American experience in the United States, Davies is able to balance this with universal characters and experiences that could speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find their way and place in the world.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.