By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Heart Principle
By Helen Hoang
After violinist Anna Sun accidentally becomes a viral sensation on YouTube, she’s left burnt out and incapacitated by the mounting pressure to replicate the moment. And then her longtime boyfriend tells her he wants an open relationship before fully committing. Hurt and angry, Anna decides if that’s what he wants, then she wants that too and embarks on a quest to have a string of one-night stands.
That’s all easier said than done, especially once she meets Quan Diep. With his tattoos and motorcycle, he appears to be ideally unacceptable. But when their first, second, and third attempts fail, Anna realizes that being with Quan is more than just about sex. He accepts her as she is and understands her better than anyone.
Since Hoang’s debut novel, which takes place in the same universe as “Heart Principle,” I’ve been looking forward to Quan’s story. Like Anna, he’s been out of the dating game for a few years—thanks to some health issues, in his case. It was great to see my favorite character in the series finally find love. Although, I’ll admit, it would’ve been nice to see a little more growth and development on how Quan dealt with the aftermath of his illness.
While this may be Quan’s story, Hoang focuses more on Anna’s journey as she discovers things about herself that help explain some of her personal struggles over the years. As she’s done in the past, Hoang does a great job of showing readers what it’s like to live on the autism spectrum and some of the very real things people may experience in certain situations. Some of what Anna goes through reflects some of Hoang’s own experiences and it shows as readers can really feel Anna’s pain and feel empathy for anyone in her situation. This made it all the more empowering and satisfying as Anna learns about herself and develops more agency over her life to find her voice and speak up for herself.
The Jasmine Project
By Meredith Ireland
Simon & Schuster Books, 2021
Things are going well for Jasmine Yap. The Korean American adoptee is about to graduate from high school and in the fall, she’s set to move in with her long-time boyfriend, Paul, and start the nursing program at the local community college. But when she catches Paul cheating, Jasmine’s world is shaken.
While she may be heartbroken, Jasmine’s huge extended Filipino-Italian family thinks this is exactly what she needs—to see that she deserves more and deserves better. The only problem is she’s not willing to meet anyone new. So the family takes it upon themselves to arrange for Jasmine to meet three boys—without realizing she’s being set up. What follows are meet cutes, pre-arranged run-ins, and dates a la “The Bachelorette.”
While the premise of “The Jasmine Project” (the book, as well as her family’s plot) may seem cutesy and silly—and there are definitely those moments—they’re also about a young woman learning her worth, coming into her own, and going after what she wants. Jasmine is a kind, giving, and loving person with a huge heart, but thanks to two incidents in middle school, she doesn’t believe she deserves to be fully loved or to go after her dreams. Her family’s shenanigans, as high-handed and extreme as they may be, are well intentioned. They just want her to see herself the way they see her.
The story also shows readers what an unhealthy relationship can look like—specifically between two young people. As an adult reader, I could see that Jasmine’s relationship with Paul was going down an abusive path and I appreciated that Ireland included this in a story geared toward young adults, to show them how you should and shouldn’t be treated. It’s a dark topic, but Ireland doesn’t delve into things too deeply, focusing more on how Jasmine feels in and out of the relationship. But it’s enough to get readers thinking, reflecting, and recognizing when something’s not right about the relationship.
The Bad Muslim Discount
By Syed M. Masood
In 1995, as fundamentalism began to take root in Pakistan, teenager Anvar Faris and his family—not quite unanimously—decide to leave their home in Karachi to start over in California. When they get there, Anvar’s deeply devout mother and model-Muslim brother are the first to adjust to American life, while Anvar’s more laidback father initially struggles. As for Anvar, he commits to (and takes pride in) being a bad Muslim.
Meanwhile, halfway across the world, a young Safwa is living in war-torn Baghdad with her grieving, conservative father. Their path to the United States is very different and much more dangerous.
When Anvar and Safwa meet about two decades later, their worlds become intertwined in a way that will shake their community and families to the core.
“Bad Muslim Discount” follows two young Muslims from the 1990s to 2016 as they make their way to the United States from their respective homelands, and their families as well. Despite their different backgrounds and journeys, Anvar and Safwa share one thing in common. From a young age, they often questioned—sometimes just to themselves—the traditions of their cultures, communities, and religion. I really appreciated this as it shows readers you shouldn’t just take things at face value and that you don’t have to do something just because it’s tradition. As we follow Anvar and Safwa’s journeys, we see them become strong adults and more sure of themselves and who they are.
Another thing I enjoyed about this story was how Masood showed readers that—like in any religion and culture—there are different ways to be Muslim. The title of the book may have “Bad Muslim” in it, but what he does here is really show how multifaceted the community and its individual members are.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.