By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Dial A for Aunties
By Jesse Q. Sutanto
When Meddelin Chan goes on a blind date, she doesn’t have many expectations. After all, the date was set up by her meddlesome mother. But one thing she definitely didn’t expect was that she’d accidentally kill the guy. Instead of calling the police, she turns to said meddlesome mother, who then calls Meddy’s three even more meddlesome aunties to help them get rid of the body. Throw in a supposed family curse, a billionaire wedding where the five of them are working, the reappearance of Meddy’s great college love—the one she let get away—and what follows is nothing short of a comedy of errors, in which everything that could go wrong, does.
Think “Crazy Rich Asians” meets “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
The first thing about “Dial A” is that you need to lean into the chaos and crazy. Meddy’s Chinese-Indonesian family is the furthest thing from logical when it comes to dealing with the dead guy (a simple call to the police could have solved so much) and once we as readers accept that, we can really enjoy this story in all of its ridiculous glory—and I mean that in the best way. The competitiveness among the aunties when it comes to who has the best methods of disposing of the dead body is hilarious and peak Asian aunty behavior.
One thing Sutanto really nails here is the family dynamics among Meddy, her mother, and her aunts. I really loved how they bickered and constantly got on each others’ nerves the way only family could. But they always show up for each other—even if that means assisting in covering up a potential crime. Just because these women are the very definition of ride or die, doesn’t mean they’ll always get along. But then again, what family does?
The Right Swipe
By Alisha Rai
Rhiannon Hunter may be behind a revolutionary dating app, but the only thing she swipes right on in real life is her career. After being burned (at the expense of said career), for her, romance doesn’t go beyond the occasional hookup.
When she hooks up with former football star Samson Lima, Rhi starts rethinking her rules. But then he disappears and she’s more convinced that her rules are a good idea.
As Rhi carries on with her life, she buries the hurt from Samson’s ghosting. But when he unexpectedly comes back into her life, connected to a business rival nonetheless, those feelings begin to resurface. And even though Samson persuades her to give him a second chance, Rhi is wary.
“Right Swipe” is a story about second chances and learning to trust again. In addition to Rhi dealing with her stances on romance, her past experiences have also informed her career path. Rai does a great job of highlighting the struggles Rhi experiences as a woman of color in the app industry without being too heavy handed or coming off as preachy—which would have been easy to do.
And then there’s Samson, who has his own issues to work through regarding how his football career ended. As a longtime romance lover, I loved that while he was an athlete (retired), Rai didn’t automatically make him into your typical suave, ladies’ man who kills it in the dating department (as they often end up in this genre). Samson has his bumbling moments, which just make him that much more endearing.
I also appreciated how diverse all of the characters—not just the protagonists—are in the story. In addition to Rhi, who is Black, and Samson, who is Samoan, Rai (who is South Asian American) includes their friends and family members who are from all different backgrounds, which is how the world really is and how more stories should be.
Things We Lost to the Water
By Eric Nguyen
When Huong arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons, she’s jobless, homeless, and worried about her husband Cong back in Vietnam. So as she settles in their new home, she sends him letters and tape recordings about the life she’s building for their children—expecting Cong to find a way to cross water so they can all be reunited as a family.
But eventually, Huong realizes Cong is not coming. As she comes to accept this, her sons try to carve their own paths, haunted by a man and country they never really knew, but have cast long shadows over their lives. Tuan finds camaraderie and a connection to his roots by joining a local Vietnamese gang, and Binh (who goes by Ben) embraces his adopted country and sexuality. As for Huong, she eventually moves on and gets involved with a Vietnamese car salesman, also new in town.
“Things We Lost” is a story about the search for identity—as individuals as well as a family—in the wake of loss and tragedy. In their search and as the three protagonists encounter different people throughout their lives, Nguyen highlights how the immigrant experience can differ for people from the same community, even when they have similar backgrounds. Experiences can even differ for members of the same family—and those experiences can tear a family apart or bring them closer together (or both).
As evidenced by this column, I’ve read a lot about families with first-generation immigrant parents and second-generation children born in the United States. But I don’t come across many stories featuring the “1.5 generation,” those who immigrated when they were children—who mainly grew up in the United States but may have some memories of their home countries.
Despite having grown up with relatives and friends of this in-between generation, I haven’t really stopped to think about what their formative years were really like and how different they may have been from mine, despite having known them my entire life.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.