By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Donut Trap
By Julie Tieu
With no boyfriend and no job prospects, Jasmine Tran finds herself back home after college, working at her parents’ donut shop. Her daily grind now consists of donuts, Netflix, and sleep, and she wants nothing more than to break free. But then a spike in rent threatens the shop’s survival and her parents need Jasmine’s help even more.
Then she runs into Alex Lai, her crush from college and things start looking up. Successful, good looking, and Chinese, he’s the ideal boyfriend in her parents’ eyes. But that changes after a disastrous meet-the-parents dinner. Jasmine is also having her own doubts.
Now Jasmine has to figure out whether she really wants to be with Alex, how to save her family business, and what she wants to do with her life.
“Donut Trap” is the story about a young woman dealing with familial pressures. Wanting to live up to our parents’ expectations is a feeling many people can relate to, regardless of our background. But when you add the immigration experience to the mix, it just adds another layer of pressure. We want to make our parents’ sacrifices and struggles worth it and Jasmine is no different. And as the story progresses, we see how all of this has affected Jasmine, both presently as well as in the past.
This is also a story about the Cambodian diaspora and how diverse it is. Jasmine’s parents grew up in Cambodia, are ethnically Chinese, and, when they escaped the Khmer Rouge, ended up in Vietnam before coming to the United States. So Jasmine’s upbringing includes aspects of all of these cultures. While my family is (mostly) ethnically Cambodian, we have extended family and friends who fit this description or sare in a similar situation. Just as not all Asians are the same, not all Cambodians are the same and I appreciated Tieu including this detail. I also appreciated that this was not a story about Jasmine’s family surviving the genocide. It’s part of her story, but Tieu does a great job of showing that there’s more to Jasmine than just her family’s trauma.
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
By Donna Barba Higuera
Levine Querido, 2020
Lupe Wong’s big goal in life is to be the first female pitcher in Major League Baseball. Her goal in the short term is to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese—Chinese and Mexican American—like her. But she can only meet him if she gets straight As on her next report card. All grades are pointing to the seventh grader meeting her hero, but then—horror of all horrors—she learns she’s going to have to square dance in physical education.
As a champion of causes—from the worthy, like expanding the race options on school tests to more than just a few bubbles, to the maybe-not-as-worthy, like complaining to the BBC about the length of time between seasons of “Doctor Who”—Lupe realizes this will be her next fight.
“Lupe Wong” is the story of a girl who is not afraid to speak her mind. Sure, she can be stubborn at times, but that also means she won’t just fall in line and let things be—especially when she thinks injustices have occurred. Sometimes this backfires, particularly when she doesn’t think things through, and with dire consequences (at least dire for a pre-teen).
Barba Higuera does a great job of blending humor with themes such as the importance of being true to yourself and speaking out about something for the right reasons. Lupe is a hilarious character and it’s great to see her grow throughout the story. Her crusade to end square dancing in P.E. starts out a little selfish (she is only 12, after all), but by the end, we see her shift and become more thoughtful and compassionate. Her evolution serves as a reminder to readers of all ages that we can all take the time to stop and think before we speak or act.
A Taste for Love
By Jennifer Yen
To most people, Liza Yang is pretty much perfect. But to her very traditional Taiwanese mom, Liza is too stubborn and rebellious—and needs to be more like her older sister, Jeannie. The one thing Liza and her mom do agree on is their love for baking. So when her mom lets her take on a bigger role in their family bakery’s annual junior baking competition, Liza sets out to prove she is, in fact, a good daughter.
But when she sees that all the competitors are Asian American boys, Liza knows her mom is up to something—specifically, matchmaking. And as annoyed as she is at her mom, Liza is even more annoyed to find herself actually drawn to one of the “bachelors,” the stoic but irritatingly hot James.
“Taste for Love” is a fun retelling of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” My favorite parts were the baking competition. All the guys have been handpicked by her mom and while they may appear to be good matches on paper, real life is a whole other thing. So obviously, hilarity ensues—especially because a number of them have next to no baking skills.
This is definitely one of those books you don’t want to read while hungry. Yen’s descriptions will have you craving everything from boba, to Korean barbecue, to dumplings. And in a society where anything “too different” is open to ridicule, I appreciated Liza’s unashamed love for all different types of Asian food and the normalizing of different aspects of our everyday lives without exoticizing or “othering” us.
Finally, I just loved Liza. I related to parts of the fraught relationship with her mom, as well as her relationship with Jeannie and her role as a younger sister. That pressure to try to be perfect and live up to an older sibling is something I still deal with today. But as Liza learns the value in being herself and following her own passions, she reminds readers that who we are is enough, in any situation.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.