By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Written by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019
Every summer, a young boy and his family go camping at Mountain Pond. While there, they will typically see animals such as eagles, salamanders, and chipmunks.
But this year is a little different. For one, the boy is about to start first grade and as a result, his mother is encouraging him to do more things by himself — just like his older brother. And most different of all this year, the family encounters a tiger in the woods.
Initially — as most people would be — the family is cautious about approaching the tiger.
But the tiger proves it has friendly tendencies and spends the majority of the trip with the young boy.
“Camp Tiger” is a sweet story about a child who is nervous and anxious about starting something new. But as he and the tiger become friends, we see him slowly gain the confidence to do, as his mother encourages, things on his own, without his family’s help.
And as the story progresses, Choi shows readers how the tiger helps the boy with this.
The boy and his family are nameless throughout the story, making it easier for young readers to imagine themselves as the boy. Growing up can be scary, especially as children learn to be more independent. “Camp Tiger” is a story that can help youngsters cope with those anxieties — whether it’s going to school for the first time or making new friends.
In addition to the beautiful story, this book includes gorgeous illustrations. From the natural scenery of Mountain Pond, to the detailing on the tiger, Rocco does a fantastic job of bringing Choi’s story to life.
“The Key to Happily Ever After”
By Tif Marcelo
Gallery Books, 2019
The de la Rosa family has been creating happily ever afters in the Washington, D.C. area through their wedding planning business, Rings & Roses. And now, sisters Marisol, Janelyn, and Pearl have taken over after their mother — who ran the business for decades — retires and moves to the Philippines.
And while the sisters have been a part of Rings & Roses for years, they quickly discover that working for the family business is not the same as running the family business. From dealing with mood-swinging brides and controlling grooms, to the day-to-day ups and downs that come with trying to run a business (and with family, nonetheless), the sisters are tested at almost every turn.
Marcelo gives readers insight into the world of weddings and for those who have never really been involved in planning one (like yours truly), it can be a lot and way more complicated than you’d realize.
In addition to the business side of things, the sisters go through quite a bit on the personal side, ranging from budding relationships to sisterly riffs.
While you will most likely find “Happily” in the romance section, the story focuses more on the relationships among the sisters. There are times when it looks like the three of them may never speak to each other again and Marcelo does a great job of portraying the complexities that come with sibling relationships. Mari, Jane, and Pearl are all strong individuals, but they are even stronger together.
The story jumps between Mari’s and Pearl’s points of views and Marcelo has created two complicated, multifaceted women. We learn how past events have shaped them and their relationship with each other and how that has affected how they view romantic love. I only wish we were able to see Jane’s perspective as the middle sibling, dealing with the drama her two sisters bring into their lives.
By Tan France
St. Martin’s Press, 2019
Before the world knew him as one of the members of the Fab Five on “Queer Eye,” Tan France was a boy from South Yorkshire, England. Growing up in a predominantly white community was difficult enough as a South Asian, but add being gay and it was difficult for France to be himself — especially in a traditional Pakistani family.
“Naturally” is an origin story as France shares with readers how he went from adding his own style to his clothes as a young boy, to joining the cast of “Queer Eye” and becoming one of the first visible LGBTQ+ South Asian people in entertainment — as well as meeting and marrying the love of his life, a Mormon cowboy from Salt Lake City. It wasn’t an easy road and France shows us what he went through to finally be happy with being himself — a struggle many people face.
Fans of “Queer Eye” will enjoy a glimpse into France’s life and learning about what it can be like to be on a reality TV show. He also shares his do’s and don’ts when it comes to denim, some of the celebrity encounters he has had, as well as the cultural differences he has observed between the United States and United Kingdom.
And while that part of the story is fun and interesting to read, if you take that away, you get a story about acceptance and understanding.
France does not sugarcoat his experiences with racism and bigotry, including a violent encounter he and a brother faced walking home one day. Reading about his experiences can be heartbreaking — even more so when you realize they were not singular and many other people have experienced and still experience similar encounters to this day. But instead of dwelling on the negative, France’s story shows readers what can come from the strength one gains from overcoming those experiences.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.