By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By G.L. Tomas
Rebellious Valkyrie Press, 2016
Paul Hiroshima had it all. He was charming and good looking, known for his artistic talents and a great dancer. But that was back in Chicago. Now that his family has moved to Portland, Maine the summer before his last year in high school, things were going to change.
But then he met Felicia Abelard, the girl next door.
The pair quickly become friends, bonding over their love of comic books and even assuming secret identities. They were supposed to be just friends, but then Paul and Felicia began developing feelings for each other. Needless to say, once school started, things got complicated.
“Unforgettables” has many of the qualities you would expect from a young adult novel: an awkward first love, that feeling of being an outsider and not belonging, and parents that the main characters feel are out to ruin their lives.
But what stands out in this story is the diverse cast of characters. Paul comes from a mixed-race background, with a Japanese father and white mother, and Felicia’s family takes great pride in their Haitian background. Even the story’s secondary characters represent various backgrounds and show readers that diversity means more than just race and ethnicity — from the gay couple who attend church with Felicia’s parents, to the seemingly “run-of-the-mill” white guy who has more to him than meets the eye, to the young transgender girl who is self-conscious about her voice as she is transitioning.
In addition, Paul and Felicia also revel in their geeky ways, which extend beyond comic books. It is actually one of the things that draws them to each other and allows them to completely be themselves when they are together.
While the main focus of the story is Paul and Felicia’s relationship, Tomas also includes the trials and tribulations that come with just being a teenager, from Paul’s academic struggles, to Felicia dealing with the mean girls on her soccer team. There are even moments of sibling squabbles as Paul’s younger sister and brother like to go out of their way to make things difficult for him.
Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan
Meet Cinnamon, a beautiful princess living in a mythic India.
Despite her beauty, Cinnamon had pearls for eyes, which meant she was blind. And she also did not talk. It is the latter that has her parents, the Rajah and the Rani, so concerned. So in an effort to help their daughter, they announced that they would offer a room in their palace, a field of mango trees, a portrait of the Rani’s beautiful aunt, and a green parrot to the individual who could get Cinnamon to speak.
Needless to say, people responded to the call. But they were all unsuccessful and ended up leaving the palace frustrated as they were unable to get the princess to speak.
That is until a talking tiger arrives at the palace, ready to take on the task of teaching the “girl-cub” to talk.
In addition to this fun story that teaches readers of all ages not to make snap judgements about people (or animals), “Cinnamon” shows that friendships may come to us in the most unlikely ways.
Despite being a man-eater, the tiger pushes his natural urges aside to help Cinnamon. This is something readers of all ages can keep in mind whenever we meet people.
While Gaiman’s words paint a vivid picture of Cinnamon’s story, it is really brought to life through Srinivasan’s bold and colorful illustrations. Her artwork illustrates how elaborate Cinnamon’s family’s palace is, how beautiful the Rani’s aunt once was, and how dangerous the talking tiger can be.
The illustrations also highlight some of the more humorous scenes in the story, such as when the tiger goes after the Rani’s aunt.
Rich People Problems
By Kevin Kwan
After Shang Su Yi has a cardiac episode that lands her in the hospital and on her deathbed, the entire Shang-Young clan convenes at the family estate, Tyersall Park. But it’s not because they are heartbroken at the thought that the matriarch of their family may die. It’s because they’re all waiting to stake their claim on the family fortune.
“Rich People” marks the third and final installment of Kwan’s trilogy that started with “Crazy Rich Asians.”
And just like its two predecessors, this book is filled with all the extravagance and entitlement we’ve come to expect — and kind of love (while a part of you is probably thinking how wasteful they can be) — from the characters. From Su Yi’s brother calling the Singaporean president to have the mid-flight plane with his sister’s cardiologist onboard turned around, to an elaborate, secret proposal involving an elephant, almost none of these characters know what the word “no” means.
It’s not easy for us common folk to feel sympathy for anyone who complains about potentially inheriting only a few million dollars, but Kwan has humanized his characters and there is depth to them that has readers rooting for them. In addition, weaved within all the privilege and over-the-top wealth are secrets about some of Asia’s wealthiest families. And once those secrets are revealed, we learn that underneath these individuals’ apparent shallowness is love and a determination to make sure their families are taken care of — even if “taken care of” means something completely different to a billionaire than to the rest of us non-billionaires.
From Su Yi’s grandson Nick and his wife Rachel dealing with his meddling mother Eleanor who is anxious for grandchildren (because it’s all about her), to his cousin Astrid Leong and her struggles as she deals with an increasingly acrimonious divorce, Kwan has expertly developed his characters and readers will enjoy seeing how their stories end.
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.