By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Somewhere Only We Know
By Maurene Goo
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019
Lucky is the biggest K-pop star at the moment. Finishing up her Asia tour with a final performance in Hong Kong, she is about to take the western world by storm with her upcoming performance on the “Later Tonight Show” in her hometown of Los Angeles. But first things first: a burger.
At the same time Lucky sneaks out of her hotel in search of said burger, Jack is sneaking into the hotel on assignment for his secret tabloid photography job.
Then the two teens’ paths cross and nothing is the same for either of them.
What follows is a whirlwind adventure as they spend the next day together sightseeing around Hong Kong. For Lucky, it’s the first time in years that she’s spent the day unmonitored by her team. For Jack, it’s a chance to see his current home through fresh eyes as he watches Lucky take everything in and experience real life for the first time.
“Somewhere” is the story of two young people on the brink of adulthood, trying to figure out what that means. Although the bulk of the book takes place over the course of about 24 hours, we see both characters experience a tremendous amount of growth.
After years of training and achieving her goal of becoming a K-pop star, the strain and pressure is finally catching up to Lucky. Her Hong Kong adventure with Jack gives her a chance to re-evaluate her life and career and figure out what she really wants for herself. And for Jack, his day with Lucky forces him to admit what he really wants as a career.
Goo also addresses some more serious topics, such as mental health through Lucky. We see the pressure she is under to always be “on” and the toll it has taken on her. And while it would have been nice to delve a bit deeper into the topic, “Somewhere” is a romantic comedy. But through Lucky’s inner musings, Goo has planted enough of a seed for any reader who may be struggling (for any reason) to consider getting help.
The Marriage Clock
By Zara Raheem
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019
At 26, Leila Abid might as well be a spinster. At least that’s the thought within the local Muslim Indian community. And it’s not as if she doesn’t want to get married.
It’s just that Leila has a very specific idea (complete with a list) of what her ideal husband should be and no one has come close.
As they all feel pressure from the community, Leila’s parents begin to force the issue, telling her they will find a husband for her. So Leila strikes a deal: If she can’t find a potential husband by their 30th anniversary party, in three months’ time, she will agree to an arranged marriage to a husband of their choosing.
Bring on the speed dates, blind dates, online dates, and even ambush dates.
Nothing seems to be working and the three-month deadline is approaching with Leila no closer to finding a match.
When I first started “Marriage,” I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how to feel about a woman whose sole purpose has turned into finding a husband. But as the story goes on, and Leila has conversations with her friends, parents, and others in her life, she and readers take in varying points of views and perspectives on love, romance, and what it means to have a partner in life. Raheem does a great job of challenging readers’ views on the subject and getting them to think about love from a different angle.
I also appreciated that Leila was specifically looking for someone who was also Indian and Muslim. On the surface, this may seem limiting and close-minded.
However, I have read enough books in my time in which characters from minority/marginalized groups end up with someone outside of their culture.
While there is nothing wrong with that, it was nice to read a story in which the protagonist does not look down on her own culture and want to “escape” it.
The Chai Factor
By Farah Heron
HarperCollins Publishers, 2019
Amira Khan has set one rule for herself: No dating until she is done with her thesis for graduate school.
The 30-year-old is just about done with a paper she hopes will impress her boss so much that he will give her the promotion she deserves. Leaving school early with the idea that she will complete the paper in the basement apartment of her family’s house, she’s dismayed to learn that her grandmother has rented the basement out to—of all people—a barbershop quartet.
And to make things worse, Duncan, the quartet’s baritone is driving her crazy. But as the two clash, Amira soon realizes she is attracted to him. She doesn’t know how she could be drawn to someone who is so different from her and doesn’t understand her culture. But she soon realizes there’s more to Duncan than meets the eye when Amira— who is an Indian Canadian Muslim—comes face to face with intolerance and people she cares about getting hurt.
While “Chai” is a classic enemies-to-lovers story, it is more than that. Heron shows readers some of the bigotry, prejudice, and straight-up hate people can deal with just for looking the way they do, believing what they do, or loving who they love.
Amira is a strong and multi-faceted character who has strong opinions and beliefs, but, after a traumatic incident from about a year ago, now keeps them mostly to herself. Through Amira’s inner musings, as well as her observations on her community, Heron shows readers the long-lasting effects prejudice and bigotry can have on people, even on children.
As serious as this may seem, Heron does a good job of balancing things out with humor. It’s fun to read Amira and Duncan bicker with each other. I especially love that she often refers to him as “the garden gnome,” despite his tall stature—which makes it all the more amusing.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.