By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Sarah Kuhn
DAW Books Inc., 2017
Aveda Jupiter (also known as Annie Chang) had been the one to protect San Francisco from demons for a long time.
But after being sidelined by an injury and watching her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka take her place and then agreeing to share the spotlight with her, Aveda is having a tough time adjusting — especially as there has been a lull on the demon front and she now finds herself without a mission.
In short, Aveda is a lost soul having an identity crisis.
Then Evie gets engaged and asks Aveda to be her maid of honor. With this new task, Aveda has to deal with the fallout of her diva behavior over the years and the fact that she hasn’t been a very good friend to Evie — or anyone else for that matter. So to make up for that, her sole focus becomes making sure Evie has the best wedding ever. This purpose goes into hyperdrive when a supernatural force starts targeting brides-to-be.
While the events in “Complex” led Aveda and Evie to work on their imbalanced friendship, it’s clear that it is an ongoing effort as things between them are still dysfunctional. This is a more realistic view on relationships, which are complicated and cannot be fixed overnight.
What I love about Kuhn’s stories is that her Asian American female characters are multifaceted. They’re strong and quirky, but they are also flawed — like real people. Going into “Worship,” I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it as I hate diva characters. But Kuhn does a great job in humanizing Aveda and showing readers why she is the way she is.
We see that behind that high-and-mighty attitude is a young girl who is terrified of the schoolyard bullies, but can’t show it because she has to protect her best friend.
While “Worship” can be categorized as a superhero (or in this case, superheroine) story, it is so much more than that. There’s also friendship, family, and even a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure.
Lily Clairet and the Romantic Non-Genre, Vol. 1
Written by Kaye Ng, illustrated by Christine Chong
Atsuko Press, 2015
The end of Lily’s first year of high school in Japan is fast approaching when one day, she comes across a disgruntled elementary school girl arguing with a cherry tree for allegedly stealing her cookie. Lily feels reluctantly compelled to help the younger girl with her predicament and this sets off an interesting chain of events to close out the school year.
Lily is forced to clean one of the school’s hallway after arriving to class late and this leads her and some classmates to discover an abandoned classroom in the music hall. They quickly learn that the room is home to the journalism club — something no one realized the school had. The club president and lone member Sonata Sonoda is missing and had been missing for almost the entire school year.
While she is intrigued and curious to find out more about what happened to Sonata, Lily is hesitant to admit it and joins the journalism club under duress from a classmate.
“Lily Clairet” is a slice-of-life novel with some light mystery thrown into the mix. There is not much of a plot in the first half of the story, which may make it difficult for some readers to get into (myself included). But things do get more interesting once Lily joins the journalism club and the members have to produce some sort of product in order to remain a club.
Lily herself is an interesting character. Although she initially appears to be the type of student who does her best to stay under the radar — giving minimal effort in academics and taking on library duties as her after school “club” activities — as the story progresses, we see Lily become more invested in others and even becoming somewhat friends with some of them, which she seemingly tries to avoid whenever possible.
She is not your typical protagonist, as she is more of the type to let things happen to her rather than to make things happen. However, Lily is a strong character who knows her own self and mind, and does not hesitate to stand up for herself and others when needed.
P.S. I Still Love You
By Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015
All of Lara Jean Covey’s love letters have been delivered and after the hilarity and misadventures that followed, she and Peter Walinsky are now together — sort of. Maybe? She’s not sure because they were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean’s not sure what’s what.
And then just as she and Peter are starting to figure things out, John Ambrose McClaren (yes, three names) — the one boy Lara Jean wrote to but never responded — finally does respond and she realizes that she may still have feelings for him.
What follows is drama that comes part and parcel with teen romance: big emotions, confusion, and the feeling that every decision you make could mean life or death. Han captures all of this so well and in a way that will have teen readers relating to Lara Jean and older readers reminiscing about their teenage years.
While “P.S.” is a love story, Han has also created a character in Lara Jean who is well-rounded and has other interests than just boys. As a half-Korean, half-white teenaged girl, Lara Jean is very close to her family, which consists of her father and two sisters, as her mother died when the girls were younger. Whether she’s planning the perfect birthday sleepover for her 10-year-old sister Kitty or creating an online dating profile for her father, it is clear to readers that Lara Jean’s family is one of her top priorities. She also volunteers at a local senior center and goes above and beyond when it comes to planning activities for them and taking care of them.
This aspect of Lara Jean’s character is refreshing, as Han shows readers that there is more to life than romance. This can sometimes be lost in romance novels, as stories can focus solely on the relationship between the two protagonists. What Han has done is show readers that while romantic love is important, it is not the only type of love that matters.
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.