By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Sail Away with Me
By Susan Fox
Aside from her years at the university in Vancouver, B.C., Iris Yakimura has spent her entire life on Destiny Island. And that’s how she has wanted it. Painfully shy and introverted, the avid romance reader spends her days working at her family’s bookstore in town, believing the right man will come along and love her just the way she is.
That man is celebrity musician Julian Blake, who grew up on the island, but left as a teen after years of abuse at the hands of a mentor. Julian avoids the island as much as possible, but he’s back for an extended period to help care for his father who was injured in a car accident.
While Iris and Julian seemingly have nothing in common, the two share a bond that starts as friendship and slowly develops into love. Julian accepts Iris, who is Japanese Canadian, just the way she is. While he challenges her, he doesn’t push her too far outside her comfort zone.
And when she learns about the abuse Julian endured as a boy, Iris steps up to support him, working to overcome her shyness.
There may not be much drama and tension between Iris and Julian, as there sometimes can be in romance novels. Instead, Fox does a great job of showing a relationship that evolves from friendship into something more. The drama mostly comes from Julian’s past and Fox treats the subject of abuse with the seriousness it deserves. The anxiety and concern he feels about possibly not being believed, as well as the shame and guilt he feels from not doing anything to stop the abuse, is realistic and shows why survivors don’t always come forward.
In addition, Fox does not exoticize Iris’ Japanese heritage. She offers historical context of the Japanese community in Canada, and shows what people have gone through over the years and overcome to be accepted into society.
American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures
By America Ferrera
Gallery Books, 2018
When it comes to stories about the immigrant experience, it is not uncommon for them to focus on the struggles people go through and the hard times they endured. Less common are those stories in which people embrace their cultural heritage and share what it is they love about their backgrounds.
“American Like Me” is a collection of these stories. Fueled by her own experiences growing up in a Honduran American family, Ferrera invited 31 actors, comedians, athletes, politicians, artists, and writers to share their stories of living between cultures.
Included are Padma Lakshmi, Randall Park, Michelle Kwan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Kal Penn.
The stories range from hilarious to heartwarming. Whether their stories are about the sacrifices their parents have made for them or the fond memories they have growing up in a multicultural environment, one thing they all have in common is the pride the writers feel in their backgrounds.
Just by the nature of this column, I read a lot of books featuring characters who are connected to more than one culture. While many of those characters want to distance themselves from or flat out reject their culture, “American Like Me” was refreshing in that it shows people who take pride in that difference.
I appreciated this as I have always been proud to be Cambodian American and Asian American. And while I understand how certain experiences could lead some people to distance themselves from their “otherness,” this wasn’t something I personally experienced.
This being said, for anyone who wishes they were different — be it race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation — reading these stories about people not only accepting, but embracing and celebrating who they are, could help them do the same.
By Gloria Chao
Simon Pulse, 2018
After skipping fourth grade, Mei Lu now finds herself entering her freshman year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology at 17. It’s all part of the predetermined plan her parents have put in place for her: Attend an Ivy League school, study pre-med, become a doctor, marry a fellow Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, and pop out a bunch of babies.
There are only a few problems. Mei is a huge germaphobe who doesn’t go anywhere without her hand sanitizer. She can barely stay awake during her biology lectures, and she has a growing crush on Darren Takahashi — who is definitely not Taiwanese.
Her parents have sacrificed so much for her that she can’t bear to tell them the truth.
But then she reconnects with her brother, who has been estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, and sees how he is living the life he wants and is happy. And Mei starts to wonder what would happen if she were actually to be herself.
“American Panda” is a story of figuring out who you are and being brave enough to be that person. Mei struggles with being true to herself and the guilt she feels in wanting to live her own life, and how that clashes with what her parents want — a balance most people are familiar with.
While Mei’s parents may come off as a bit strict and extreme, Chao also does a good job in showing that they are this way because they just want the best for their children. They may go about it differently from other parents, but in the end, they do mean well. And in the end, wanting the best for our loved ones is something most of us can relate to.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.