By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes
By Roshani Chokshi
Rick Riordan Presents, 2020
The war between good and evil is coming and Aru Shah and her Pandava soul sisters are preparing for battle. When they learn the Sleeper—the demon they’re preparing to face—is going after a clairvoyant and her sister, they launch a rescue mission. Only to learn the twins are actually their newest Pandava sisters. And according to a prophecy, one of the Pandava sisters is not true.
This leads Aru and her friends on another quest—this time to find the Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree that came out of the Ocean of Milk when it was churned.
In this third installment of Chokshi’s Pandava series, we find our heroines a year older and they have really grown into their abilities. Aru and her soul sisters, Mini and Brynne, have also learned to work together and play off of each others’ strengths. For those who have been with Aru and the gang from the beginning, it’s fun to see how the group has grown. My personal favorite has been watching Mini grow from a quiet, shy hypochondriac to someone who knows how to assert herself.
All of the characters in “Tree of Wishes” are complex and multifaceted, from the soul sisters to Aiden and Rudy, the two boys who join the girls on their quest. And because the story is told from Aru’s perspective, we see all of the things she is struggling with, especially when it comes to her father and the fear that she may be the “untrue” sister. While this is a story about a group of young people trying to save the world, it is also about family, the kind you’re born into, as well as the one you create. All of the teens (because they are all teens now) have issues and insecurities but what is great about the group is that they have come to understand one another, where people are coming from and are there for each other.
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
By Rajeev Balasubramanyam
The Dial Press, 2019
As an internationally renowned economist who has advised world leaders, Professor Chandra is a favorite to receive the Nobel Prize for economics. But sadly, this year, he lost. Again.
In the wake of his recent loss, Chandra falls victim to a bicycle hit-and-run accident and has a silent heart attack at the same time. And it’s not his life that flashes before his eyes. It’s his work. All that hard work, only to lose the prize once more. So he knows he needs to get straight back to work. But his doctor disagrees.
His doctor advises the divorced father of three children to follow his bliss— whatever that may be. The only problem is, Chandra’s bliss is his work. Or so he thinks.
As Chandra sets out to figure out his bliss, readers are given a glimpse into his life leading up to that point and how he got to where he is. A big part of that is his relationship with his son, Sunny, and two daughters, Radha and Jasmine. None of the relationships is easy. Chandra doesn’t always know how to be around his children but as he embarks on this journey toward his bliss, he comes to understand who they are, what they need from him, and what he needs from them.
While Chandra initially appears to be a man who is set in his ways and views the world in a certain way, as the story progresses, we see him become more open to new things and experiences once he realizes he needs to make changes in his life.
Balasubramanyam does a great job of showing how complicated family can be. Just because you love a family member, doesn’t mean you always get along. Each member of Chandra’s family— from his three children to his ex-wife and her new husband—are three-dimensional with many layers to them. They have dreams, ideals, and ambitions of their own and we get to see what happens when reality doesn’t match up with what they envision.
Last Tang Standing
By Lauren Ho
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020
At 33, Andrea Tang’s life is a dream. She’s a successful corporate lawyer on track to make partner, lives in a fancy condo, and has a group of great friends who know all of the hottest clubs in Singapore. So what if she doesn’t have a man in her life?
After one of her cousins gets engaged, she becomes the last single Tang of her generation and the pressure for her to get married ramps up.
Enter Eric Deng, a wealthy entrepreneur who checks all the right boxes for her family. On paper, Eric is perfect but it’s Suresh Aditparan, her office rival, who she often finds herself thinking about. And soon she starts to wonder if pleasing her family will really make her happy.
“Last Tang Standing” is a story about figuring out what’s right for you. In addition to sorting out her confusing love life, Andrea also begins wondering if the job she has dedicated so many hours to is really what she wants. For readers, it becomes clear quite early on that it’s not, and it is fun to see how Andrea comes to that realization.
Andrea is an interesting character. She’s stubborn, impulsive, and doesn’t always heed others’ good advice (which can have disastrous results). And she’s a modern woman trying to do what’s right for herself while still trying to please her Chinese-Malaysian mother. This balancing act is something many children of immigrants have and Ho does a great job of showing readers that things aren’t always black and white.
In addition to Andrea, Ho’s secondary characters are also complex and complicated, from Andrea’s best friend Linda, whose own journey is quite the roller coaster, to Andrea’s mother, who has her own reasons for being so hard on her daughters. While the story is told from Andrea’s point of view, it would have been fun to delve a little deeper into some of these characters’ stories. But I guess that’s what sequels and spinoffs are for.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.