By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”
By Nagaru Tanigawa, published by Little, Brown and Company, April 2009
Almost every kid has moments where he or she wishes that life was a little less ordinary and a little more exciting.
Haruhi Suzumiya is no different.
On her first day of high school, she appears to be like any of the other girls in class — at least, until she opens her mouth. During classroom introductions, she announces that she has no interest in ordinary humans and wishes for the “aliens, time travelers, sliders, or espers” to join her.
She concludes the announcement by stating, “That is all,” before sitting back down.
This immediately catches the attention of another student, Kyon, and so begins his initially reluctant friendship with the title character in “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.”
Dissatisfied with how boring life is, Haruhi spends her spare time seeking the extraordinary through her school’s clubs. But after very little success, Haruhi decides to start her own club after Kyon unintentionally gives her the idea. And because he gave her the idea, Kyon is recruited. Other S.O.S. (Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya) members are recruited through “voluntary arrests.” Haruhi ends up commandeering another club’s classroom.
The club’s mission is to seek the extraordinary but also as Kyon, the narrator, soon learns, it’s also to keep Haruhi happy because she has can unknowingly destroy the universe. I’ll leave it you to figure out what that exactly means.
Haruhi is my favorite character because she’s the most entertaining. Her self-centeredness and complete disregard for others manifest into hilarious moments that had me laughing out loud.
This is the first in a series of young adult novels from Japan. Several installments have been released in Japanese, but the next English installment won’t be released until October this year, which I am anxiously awaiting.
“The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” reminded me that there’s no harm in trying to escape life because sometimes, life is just too ordinary.
“The Eye of Jade”
By Diane Wei Liang, published by Simon & Schuster, 2008
Meet Mei Wang, a former member of the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing turned (illegal) private investigator.
She resigns from her position with the ministry after refusing to be used as a tool for advancement by her boss and due to the destructive rumors that ensued as a result.
Deciding to stick with the familiar, Mei starts her own business as a private investigator.
Her ideals of helping people without dealing with politics or bureaucracy are quickly shot down after learning that there are two things people have abundance of: money and affairs.
After more than a year since seeing him, a family friend visits Mei at her office with an interesting case. He wants her to find the eye of jade, a jade of great value from the Han dynasty, which may have been looted from a museum during China’s Cultural Revolution.
As Mei learns more about this time in Chinese history, she also learns more about how it affected her family and the sacrifices her mother has made for Mei and her sister Lu.
I’m fairly new to the mystery genre as I have only started reading such books in the last few months. But it was fun to find that “The Eye of Jade” has those unexpected twists and turns that are characteristic of the genre. There are surprising revelations about the main character’s loved ones, just as any good mystery story should have.
The thing I liked the most about this book was how Mei wasn’t afraid to strike out on her own and pursue the career of her choice despite others’ disapproval. She doesn’t back down from her beliefs or ideals, which can be very easy to do. I found this point to be encouraging and thought she was a strong heroine who is certainly able to handle whatever case come her way.
By Shawn Wong, published by University of Washington Press, 2005
In the last few years, I have become a fan of romance novels. I’ve always wished to see more Asian American main characters, which is rare in this genre.
Therefore, when I heard about “American Knees,” I was very anxious to read it.
This is a love story about Raymond, a man who is a Chinese American professor, and Aurora, an American woman who is half Japanese.
Like any couple, they go through many ups and downs, although it appeared like there were more downs than ups. For a portion of the book, Raymond and Aurora are broken up and dating other people, but like most people, they compare their new significant others with their old ones.
Part of the reason why they break up is because the couple goes through cultural struggles. Raymond, an Asian American studies professor, puts too much emphasis on Aurora’s Japanese heritage, at least in her opinion, and that becomes to be too much for her.
One thing I found refreshing about “American Knees” was that it was a straightforward romance novel with Asian American characters. It was nice to read a book that showed Asian Americans in love without having a tragic ending.
I also liked how it portrayed Asian Americans actually dating, not having a relationship based on an arrangement made by the couple’s parents. Although this still happens, many Asian American couples today get together by choice.
This story modernizes Asian American characters and makes them more relatable to non-Asian American readers.
The dialogues between the characters about culture, as well as the characters’ thoughts on the subject, make it obvious that Wong is a professor. However, it’s not too heavy to detract the reader from the story’s lightness. The book can still be easily considered a beach read.
The only thing I regret is that there aren’t more books like “American Knees” out there. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.