By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Aru Shah and the City of Gold
By Roshani Chokshi
Rick Riordan Presents, 2021
Aru Shah has just made a wish on the tree of wishes, but she can’t remember what it was. And she can’t remember how she acquired a new sister. Not a soul sister, but an actual sister who claims to be the Sleeper’s daughter, like Aru.
But before she has time to really figure out what’s going on—or how she’s been missing for months—she has to get back to the rest of her fellow Potatoes. They need to find their mentors, Hanuman and Urvashi, in Lanka, the city of gold, before war breaks out between the devas and asuras.
While they’re still determined to fight, it’s becoming clear that Aru and the Potatoes aren’t sure about fighting the Sleeper and his demon army on behalf of the devas. The gods have been too devious. This is a definite shift from their previous quests, during which the teens trusted the gods to have their best interests at heart. As a long-time lover of this series, I really appreciated seeing this in Aru and the rest of the gang. Like all young people their age (14-15), they’re growing up and figuring out what’s truly important to them, and not just because the adults tell them something’s an important cause.
In addition to the continued mission to save the world, “City of Gold” is a story about realizing that adults—especially your parents—aren’t perfect. While Aru knew this about her father (he is the Sleeper, after all), seeing her come to this conclusion about her mother, who she loves, is heartbreaking. But as Aru realizes what drives her mother’s actions, she learns to accept her mother’s flaws. And that’s a true sign of maturity. I love the adventures in this series, but what I really love is how Chokshi grounds them in stories about growing up and becoming your own person and figuring out where you fit in the world—something so many of us can relate to.
From Little Tokyo, with Love
By Sarah Kuhn
Viking Books for Young Readers, 2021
High schooler Rika Rakuyama’s life may have the makings of a fairy tale—an orphan living with her two cousins, working at her aunts’ restaurant. But she’ll be the first to let you know that a happily ever after is not in the cards for her. After all, being biracial with a hot temper and awesome judo skills, she’s the furthest thing from a princess.
All this changes during the Nikkei Week Festival when she locks eyes with the festival’s grand marshal, actress Grace Kimura. From there, Rika embarks on a quest for the truth: Is the reigning queen of Asian American rom-coms actually her mother? Joining her on said quest is actor Hank Chen, one of Grace’s most recent co-stars. And as the two explore Los Angeles and Little Tokyo, Rika begins feeling like a happy ending for herself might be possible. But for someone who’s never felt like she belonged, Rika still has a feeling she’s just setting herself up for disappointment.
“From Little Tokyo” is loosely based on “Cinderella,” with a few appreciated modernizations. For one, Rika’s relatives are not horrible. Bossy, yes. But they love her and treat (and worry about) her no differently from anyone else. Rika may feel like an outsider, but her family doesn’t see her that way and that journey of her realizing this is so lovely and heartwarming.
Another difference from the fairy tale is that Rika doesn’t need rescuing, thank you very much—a little help every now and then maybe, but so can everyone. She’s strong (physically, thanks to the judo) and stubborn. Rika’s also pretty angry and short tempered. I cannot stress how much I loved her anger. Thanks to racist and sexist stereotypes, most of society has a very narrow view of how Asian females should act. I can’t be the only one who’s tamped down her feelings as to not stand out or make waves. So seeing Rika get mad and actually stand up for herself and others really spoke to me.
The Forest of Stolen Girls
By June Hur
Feiwel & Friends, 2021
Korea, 1426. Ever since she and her sister Maewol were found unconscious in the forest at the scene of a crime, Hwani’s family has never been the same. Four years later, her police detective father discovers 13 girls have recently gone missing in that same forest. So he travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate—only to disappear as well.
A year later, at 18, Hwani makes her own journey back home to find out what happened to her father. Her investigation also brings her face to face with Maewol, who stayed behind to train as a shaman when Hwani and their father moved to the mainland, for the first time in five years. Despite being sisters, the two young women don’t know how to be around each other, having been estranged for so long. But as Hwani digs deeper into their father’s disappearance and uncovers the secrets of the small village, she and Maewol find their way back to each other.
“Forest of Stolen Girls” is a story about a young woman searching for her father—literally and figuratively. As her and Maewol’s bond grows stronger and the other girl shares what she remembers from the Forest Incident, Hwani begins to question whether she knew her father at all. She has to reconcile her sister’s truth with the beloved hero who raised her. It’s devastating to see Hwani begin to realize her father is not perfect and that he’s made mistakes—with his own daughter, nonetheless.
A lot has been written about the relationship between Asian mothers and daughters, but not as many about Asian fathers and daughters. So I appreciated that this story is filled with examples of fathers and the lengths they would go in the name of love and protecting their daughters—even if some of the results are less than ideal.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.