By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Sarah Kuhn
Team Tanaka/Jupiter is back and their membership is growing. Evie, the Tanaka half of the superheroine duo, has just found out she’s pregnant and everyone is thrilled about the group’s newest addition. And Evie is too. Really.
But she also can’t help harboring feelings of doubts.
However, before she really dwells on things, her alma mater (does it count if she actually dropped out?) has been experiencing a string of mysterious “hauntings” and she and her best friend and fellow superheroine, Aveda Jupiter, go undercover at the school, posing as graduate students to figure out what or who is behind these hauntings that are hurting students.
“Haunted Heroine” is the fourth novel in Kuhn’s Heroine Complex series. For longtime fans of the series (including yours truly), it’s fun to revisit our favorite team of Asian American superheroines and see what they’ve been up to—not only in terms of protecting San Francisco from demons, but also personally. In the earlier installations, readers saw how dysfunctional, codependent, and, frankly, unhealthy some of the characters’ relationships were. Kuhn does a great job of realistically portraying the issues and growing pains they have experienced to get to where they are now—which is not perfect, but definitely more stable. Things don’t get fixed just because you want them to. You have to work at them and that is exactly what Evie and her loved ones do.
Kuhn also touches on some of the anxieties that new parents-to-be experience as Evie and her half-demon husband Nate navigate a new stage in their relationship. While her life on the surface may seem perfect, Evie feels woefully unprepared for parenthood, but doesn’t know how to express her doubts. And it doesn’t help to be back at school, an environment that holds a lot of painful memories for her. As the more introverted and previously “mousy” member of the team, it is great to see Evie really come into her own and learn how to let others know what she needs from them.
“Haunted Heroine” is my favorite installation of the series. I’ve loved seeing the team grow on different levels and can’t wait to see what new adventures unfold in future books.
This Time Will Be Different
By Misa Sugiura
While the Katsuyama family motto may be that they never quit, 17-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. As the daughter of a very type A mother, who has great ambitions for her, CJ is perfectly fine helping her aunt Hannah at their family flower shop. She may not believe her aunt’s romantic ideas about flowers and their secret meanings, but the teen realizes she has a knack for arranging the perfect bouquet and might even be proud of this skill.
So when her mother decides to sell the long-struggling shop to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when they and thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II, CJ finds herself standing up for something she believes in for the first time.
As someone who sees herself as somewhat of a failure, CJ is about the furthest thing away from the model minority stereotype thrust upon Asian Americans. She may feel some pressure to be successful at something (anything, really) to make her mother proud, but she is content just coasting along in life, thank you very much. It’s refreshing to find a character who is not perfect and does not try to be, but does try to be better. CJ is full of flaws.
Her emotions can get the best of her and she can hold a grudge like you wouldn’t believe. But she is also loyal and will be there for the ones she loves. And that’s what makes her so relatable.
In addition, Sugiura introduces readers to a whole cast of multifaceted characters, who all have their own complicated relationships with CJ and each other. While they might start as common archetypes—the overly demanding mother, the overachieving popular girl at school, the nerdy boy in class—we get to know them through CJ’s eyes and see that there is more to them.
Sex and Vanity
By Kevin Kwan
On her first day on the island of Capri in Italy, Lucie Churchill meets George Zao and immediately doesn’t like him. But she can’t deny her attraction to him and finds herself kissing him in the dark among ancient ruins of a Roman villa. Unfortunately, her snobby, disapproving cousin Charlotte catches them, teasing her that she would be attracted to “someone like him” since Lucie’s mother is Chinese.
As the daughter of an American-born Chinese mother and blue-blooded New York father, Lucie has always favored her white side and denies her feelings for George. But years later, while weekending in East Hampton with her new WASP-y, family-approved fiancé, she bumps into George again and soon finds herself in a web of lies and deceit as she fights her feelings for George.
“Sex and Vanity” is Kwan’s first novel following the “Crazy Rich Asians” trilogy and once again invites readers into the world of the privileged. From the locations and food to the fashion, we get to once again see how differently the top 1% live compared to the rest of us. It’s a world in which everyone is constantly trying to one up each other, while not being too showy or crass.
But as fancy and sparkly as their lives may be, they are definitely not without problems and issues—even some us common folk encounter in our lives, such as trying to please our families while doing what’s right for ourselves.
Lucie starts out as very naive and sheltered. She’s a bit of a people pleaser, doing what others think she should be doing. And not often is this what she wants to be doing. But even from the beginning, there are things she does that show readers she is also a fighter and her own person.
Lucie is also a young woman caught between two cultures. This is something many Asian Americans (whether or not they’re mixed race) can relate to and no amount of wealth or lack thereof can make that easier.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.