By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Kazuki Kaneshiro, translated by Takami Nieda
As a Korean student attending a Japanese high school, Sugihara has been in (and won) his fair share of fights with bullies who have targeted him for his ethnicity.
But then he falls in love with Sakurai, a Japanese girl from another school. And nothing has prepared him for the trials and tribulations that come with young love. And as the young couple grows closer over their love for classical music and foreign music, Sugihara continues to put off telling Sakurai the truth about his background.
He reaches the moment of truth after a personal tragedy and is forced to tell Sakurai that he is Korean. As expected, she doesn’t take Sugihara’s confession well.
While Sakurai has to come to grips with her biases and prejudices, Sugihara has to decide what his next steps in life will be.
“Go” is a coming-of-age story filled with many of the staples of the genre: love, loss, and the growing pains that come with trying to figure out who you want to be. But there’s also racial and ethnic discrimination thrown in for good measure. The characters must confront their own biases and the preconceived notions they have about those who are different, especially once they have gotten to know the individuals in question — something we can all keep in mind.
Kaneshiro, through Nieda’s translations, does a great job of capturing the ups and downs of adolescence. Whether it’s Sugihara’s relationship with Sakurai, the uncertainty he feels about his future, or his relationship with his parents, we see that no matter where you are in the world, there are just some things that never change for teenagers. And in a society where so many are so focused on what makes us different, “Go” proves that we really are not that different.
By Eleanor Glewwe
As the daughter of an important ambassador in the country of Atsani, Rivka is part of the magical elite. And when her father is appointed as ambassador to the nearby country of Ashara, it is all Rivka can do to contain her excitement.
This is because she harbors a deep secret: She once had a twin brother, Arik, who was placed with another family after he failed to develop magical abilities. For four years, all she has ever wanted was to be reunited with her twin. So when she and her father arrive in the country where he now lives, Rivka immediately begins her search for Arik — all without alerting her father, who has told her to forget about her twin.
“Wildlings” is a story about being brushed aside and underestimated — and thriving not only in spite of all that, but because of it. As teenagers, Rivka and the new friends she makes in Ashara, who help her in her search, refuse to be dismissed just because of their age. If anything, they use this to their advantage while they work towards their goal.
Although “Wildlings” takes place in a fictional land, Glewwe, who is half Chinese, touches on the universal themes of societal prejudice and biases, and what it takes to overcome this and change people’s minds. The story takes place in the same universe as Glewwe’s debut novel, “Sparkers,” which has similar themes relating to social justice (and now that I know that story came first, I’m going to have to add it to my to-read list).
Glewwe also touches on the strength of the love between siblings, which is a unique bond. Rivka is willing to risk everything — from her father to her freedom not only to see Arik again, but to be able to be seen with him in public without fear or repercussions.
This is a story about how it doesn’t matter how old or young you are. You can still make a difference if you want it enough — something we can all do well to remember.
By Axie Oh
Tu Books, 2017
In East Asia 2199, a great war has left the East Pacific in ruins. In Neo Seoul, status is based on one’s success in combat and ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the academy ranks.
Having been abandoned as a child in the slums of Old Seoul by a rebel father, all Jaewon wants is to escape his past.
Jaewon is soon recruited into a weapons development division and he is eager to prove himself to claim military glory. But it gets complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject for a government super soldier project. Tera has been trained to pilot a robot for a never-ending war, and Jaewon becomes her partner and is secretly ordered to report on her.
Things don’t start out smoothly, but as time passes, Jaewon earns Tera’s respect. That respect turns into love, causing Jaewon to question a regime that has no qualms about creating weapons out of humans. At the same time, there are rumors of a rebellion and with his new uncertainty regarding the Republic, Jaewon must pick a side.
“Rebel Seoul” is a science fiction novel — a genre I don’t normally delve into — but take away the robots and secret experiments, and you have a story with characters trying to do what they believe is right, even if this means undermining authority figures and societal norms. Jaewon’s questioning of how things are serves as a reminder to readers that just because things are a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s how they should be or that things can’t change.
Although “Rebel Seoul” is intended for young adult readers, Oh does a great job of appealing to readers of all ages. Jaewon is a great protagonist with a complicated story and Tera is more than just an experiment. Her human side shines through, showing readers glimpses of who she used to be.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.