By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Aru Shah and the Song of Death
By Roshani Chokshi
Disney Hyperion, 2019
Aru Shah is back for another adventure in this second installment of Chokshi’s Pandava series.
Following her first adventure, things are going pretty OK for Aru. Her relationship with her mom is improving, even after learning her dad is a demon called the Sleeper. And she’s starting to get the hang of this whole Pandava thing while training with her soul sister, Mini.
But then the Otherworld goes into a panic after the god of love’s bow and arrow go missing and are used to turn people into heartless zombies. And to make matters worse, Aru is framed as the thief. So she and Mini have to find the bow and arrow and return it to its rightful owner or else they’ll be kicked out of the Otherworld for good. And this time, they’re joined by Brynne, another newly discovered soul sister, and Aiden, the boy from across the street.
Now on their second quest together, it is clear that Aru and Mini truly are soul sisters. The two are learning to work together as a team and if one of them is in danger, the other will do whatever it takes to save her. This teamwork and loyalty is extended to Brynne and Aiden, as they join the gang. Chokshi does a great job of showing readers what it means to be a friend, even if you may not agree with the other person.
Throughout their quest, we see the characters’ various insecurities crop up and we learn the reasons behind them. Being insecure is something most of us experience throughout life.
Middle school, the age of Aru and her friends, in particular can be a difficult time. By showcasing some of the difficulties they are going through, Chokshi shows readers that they are experiencing things alone, which can be very helpful for readers at this age.
Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories
Edited by C. Spike Trotman, Kate Ashwin, and Kel McDonald
Iron Circus Comics, 2019
Every culture has its own fables, fairy tales, folklore, and legends. And Asian cultures are no exception.
In this collection of stories, we get almost two dozen stories spanning the continent. From vengeful spirits and flying ogres, to ghost pepper ghosts and trickster tigers, these cautionary tales are retold in comics.
While some of the stories may be familiar, such as “The Ballad of Mulan” from China, there are other lesser-known stories, such as “After the Rain” from Myanmar, “Frog Skin” from Georgia, and “The Legend of Asena” from Turkey. As a reader, I appreciated reading stories from different countries and learning a bit about these places and their folklore. That being said, I do think there could have been more countries represented as there were a lot of tales from China, Japan, and India. It would have been fun to read more stories from Southeast Asia and other parts of South Asia.
Another thing I liked about this collection of stories was the fact that each one was drawn in a different style, as they all featured different artists. There is nothing wrong with reading a story and having the words there to help you paint a picture in your mind. But seeing a story drawn out in comics and graphic novels does make it easier for you to imagine what is happening in any given scene. The artists throughout this collection do a great job of depicting their respective stories.
This collection is “A Cautionary Fables & Fairytales” book and just like most fairy tales, each story has a message or lesson for readers to learn. The lessons are similar to many of the ones we have become familiar with in Western stories. To see them coming from different cultures and stories just shows readers that we may not be all that different after all.
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors
By Sonali Dev
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019
Trisha Raje is considered the black sheep in her family. As San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon, the term “genius” is often used among her colleagues and patients.
But none of that matters to her family, who are descendants from Indian royalty. To them, it is all about Trisha’s brother’s political career and how they all can help him as he runs for governor of California. And for the Raje family, there are a few non-negotiable rules: Never trust an outsider, never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations, and never, ever defy your family.
Trisha has done all of this and it looks like she’s bound to repeat old mistakes when she meets DJ Caine, an up-and-coming chef who just landed the lucrative job of catering a fundraising dinner for the campaign.
DJ is used to arrogant people like Trisha and while he would no sooner be done with dealing with her and her family, he needs the money to help with his sister’s medical treatment. And to top it all off, he learns that Trisha is the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.
Trisha and DJ are forced to come together not only for his sister’s treatments, but also as they plan for her brother’s fundraiser. The more they get to know each other, the more their assumptions about each other fall away and they realize that the other person might not be so bad.
As the title implies, “Pride” is a reimagining of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Dev puts her own spin on things, telling the story of a family trying to build a home in a new land, as well as a man who has never felt like he had a real home.
In addition to Trisha and DJ, this story features a number of wonderfully complex secondary characters, from Trisha’s parents and siblings, to DJ’s artist sister.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.