By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Sarah Kuhn
DAW Books, 2021
After years of protecting San Francisco from demons, the adventures of superheroines Aveda Jupiter and Evie Tanaka are now the stuff of legend—so much so that they’re headed to Hollywood to check out the TV show that’s been created about them.
But with Otherworld activity detected outside of the Bay Area, Aveda has a hard time getting excited about the show. She’s more concerned about the fate of the world, her role in it, and if the demonic threat will ever disappear—especially when it looks like the on-set drama has supernatural elements to it.
In this fifth installment of Kuhn’s Heroine Complex series, we see how saving the world on the regular—while also trying to fix all of her friends’ personal issues—has taken its toll on Aveda. As a quintessential Type A, everything has to be done a certain way, but her controlling tendencies are leading Aveda down a path toward burnout (although she’s in denial). Kuhn continues to show readers the inner workings of a superheroine team, because it’s more than just showing up to the scene and throwing a few good punches and kicks. And here, we see how the work can affect a superheroine, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Remove the supernatural and Aveda can be anyone who is trying to be perfect and “do it all,” reminding many of us that we need to be kinder to ourselves—
especially women of color, who tend to downplay their struggles.
One thing I really loved about “Hollywood Heroine” was seeing the universe expand. Characters from the series’ previous book are now a part of Team Jupiter/Tanaka. It’s fun seeing Aveda mentoring and training the “next generation” and realizing she’s no longer alone in the fight against evil. She has other people to lean on now. And this is key, given her aforementioned Type A tendencies—especially when some of the more pressing conflicts she encounters don’t have anything to do with being a superheroine.
By Sarah Echavarre Smith
Alia Dunn just landed her dream job. After paying her dues at TV’s top outdoor travel channel, she’s finally able to produce a series highlighting Utah’s national parks—a tribute to her late apong, who first introduced her to the outdoors and sparked her love for travel.
It’s all very exciting, until Alia meets her newest crew member—Drew Irons. This is the same Drew who ghosted her after an amazing first date, who is now constantly second-guessing her in front of the whole crew. But eventually, the tension between them turns into something else, which leads to the pair catching major feelings. But when the series host proves to be a nightmare beyond belief, jeopardizing the entire shoot, Alia realizes she’ll have to work with the whole crew—including Drew—to save her show.
In addition to the love story between Alia and Drew, “On Location” is the story of a woman coming into her own. For a long time, Alia has kept her head down and just did as she was told at work. But now that she’s running her own show, she’s learning how to use her voice, not only for herself, but on behalf of her crew. It was great to see Alia grow and gain confidence in herself as the story progressed. I appreciated Smith showing that it wasn’t a straight path and that Alia still has moments of doubt.
Smith’s descriptions of the various parks where Alia and her crew filmed will also have readers wanting to visit Utah and check out the state’s natural beauty. Hiking and being outdoors are still seen as pretty white activities. So it was great to see Alia, who is half Filipina, enjoy it, and be really knowledgeable on these topics, showing readers Asian Americans belong in all spaces.
You Can’t Be Serious
By Kal Penn
Gallery Books, 2021
Kal Penn is probably best known as one of the stars of the Harold and Kumar franchise, as well as his roles on “House” and “Designated Survivor.” But what was his path to get to where he is now? And how (and why) did he go from an actor with a steady and lucrative job on a successful TV show, to being part of former president Barack Obama’s administration?
In this memoir, Penn chronicles his journey from a New Jersey boy who just couldn’t figure out math (there’s no story for why the area of a triangle is one-half base times height!), to splitting his time on the set of “House” and campaigning for Obama. Penn shares stories about the racism he faced as an Indian American actor in an industry that is still predominantly white—the “Malibu’s Most Wanted” disaster is particularly horrendous. He doesn’t sugarcoat things and gives readers a glimpse into show business, beyond the glitz and glam. And while his experiences probably wouldn’t surprise some readers, for others, Penn’s horror stories might come as a surprise.
In a time when the ongoing pandemic has had people reevaluating their lives and careers, Penn shares what led him to leave acting for public service and working in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. He shows readers that it’s ok to have more than one passion and that making big life changes—like changing careers—might be scary, but sometimes, it’s worth the risk.
In addition to his career, Penn also shares key moments in his personal life, like when he first met his now fiance, Josh. I particularly enjoyed the stories about their early days of dating (Josh’s beer koozie move on their second date really had me smiling).
Whether he’s telling us about the umpteenth time he was asked to do an Indian accent during an audition, or how Josh introduced him to NASCAR, Penn’s conversational tone will have readers feeling like they’re just hanging out with a friend, swapping life stories.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.