By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali
By Sabina Khan
Scholastic Press, 2019
At 17, Rukhsana Ali is in her senior year and can’t wait to graduate. Because come next fall, she is headed to Caltech with her girlfriend Ariana. She doesn’t plan to come out to her conservative Muslim parents until she’s in California and they’re back in Seattle, unable to really do anything about it.
But then her mother catches her with Ariana and everything falls apart.
Before she knows it, her parents whisk her off to Bangladesh under the guise that her grandmother has fallen ill. But once she gets there, it’s clear that Nani is not as ill as she was made to believe. The real purpose of the trip is for her parents to find Rukhsana a husband. She is devastated at this turn of events, but while she’s still in Bangladesh, Nani gives Rukhsana her old diary. What she learns is just what she needs to take control and plan her escape back to Seattle.
“Love and Lies” is a powerful story about a young woman who fights for who she is and who she loves. While there might be less drama if she just went along with her parents’ plan, it would mean denying who she is and Rukhsana just can’t do it. Her strength is unwavering despite the trauma she experiences.
There are moments that can be difficult to read, as we see the measures Rukhsana’s parents take to try to steer her back onto the “right” path. The details of the extremes they go to may be different and specific to their religious and cultural background, but they are not that different from stories about parents forcing their gay children into conversion therapy.
“Love and Lies” is just the same unfortunate story told through a different lens.
Despite this darkness, Khan does a great job balancing the heartbreaking and the hopeful throughout the story. This is a story about love and the lengths people will go to in its name and we see that in the help Rukhsana receives from allies, both new and old, showing readers that all is not lost.
What Kind of Day
By Mina V. Esguerra
Bright Girl Books, 2018
After dedicating years as a speechwriter for a Philippine senator, Ben Cacho suddenly finds himself in the midst of a political scandal, thrown under the bus and out of a job.
Needless to say, it’s not a good day. Just wanting to forget any of it happened, Ben steps onto what he thinks is a shuttle ride home, but turns out to actually be a tour van of Manila.
For Naya Llamas, having an extra person join her tour at the last minute was not part of her plans for the day. But it looks like Ben could use a bit of an escape from real life so she decides to let him stay.
While they may not have gotten off to the best start, Ben and Naya connect and as the day continues, we see the beginnings of a romance.
“What Kind of Day” is a sweet love story told from both Ben’s and Naya’s points of view. As with any romance, we know they will end up together, but Esguerra does a great job showing readers how they get there. As a regular romance reader, I appreciated how she didn’t have this happen after Ben and Naya’s first day together. It felt more realistic when they went their separate ways and dealt with their respective issues. Esguerra gives the characters time to do this, and we get to see them grow as individuals before they come together again.
Naya and Ben are great characters individually and as a couple. While there is attraction, there is also respect between the two and it was nice to see how they supported each other through difficult times.
In addition to the characters, Esguerra does such a good job of describing Manila that will have readers wanting to visit the Philippine capital.
By Piper J. Drake
Carina Press, 2018
At the end of a night working as a security guard at a private party, all Lizzy Scott wants to do is relax in a nice bubble bath. This plan becomes derailed when she is forced to come to the rescue of one Kyle Yeun, a man who is under witness protection so he can testify about his former employer’s environmental misdeeds.
Initially under the protection of local law enforcement agencies, the attack Lizzy saves him from shakes Kyle, as he realizes his former employers really want him to stay silent — for good. So he hires Safeguard, an elite security team that provides a whole range of protection services.
Specifically, he hires Lizzy.
Despite her initial reluctance, Lizzy takes on the job of protecting Kyle. And it proves to be anything but a simple job, as there are multiple threats and incidents against Kyle and those tasked with protecting him.
“Deadly Testimony” is a fast-paced story about two people who are thrown together into an intense situation and end up finding each other. It is fun to read the interactions between Kyle and Lizzy, as their relationship grows and we see them begin to actually mean something to each other.
One thing I liked was how the role of the protector and protected are reversed, with the woman looking out for the man. Lizzy is a strong and capable woman with a few quirks to round her out, such as her love of disguises.
But this is not to say Kyle is weak and can’t hold his own. Drake does a great job of balancing his vulnerability as he fears for his own life and that of his sister and nephew, with his contributions to the plans in keeping him safe.
It was also nice to see Kyle, who is of Korean descent, break out of the stereotypical image of the emasculated Asian male. He is a multifaceted, well-rounded alpha male who our heroine is attracted to, but is also aware of his limitations and knows when to ask for help.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.