Hello. Here you will find the last half of the books I read for Asian Read-a-Thon. I hope that you will look at this and find a book or 8 to read. OK I’m out. Cook on, mothercheffers.
10. The Last Story of Mina Lee – Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Holy shit is this book depressing. Girl finds mom dead in her apartment. From there, the chapters alternate between the daughter trying to figure out what happened to her mom, to the mom in a past timeline where we see her journey & transition from Korea to America in the 80s. It’s your classic “children can’t see their parents as people with their own lives and history until it’s too late” type of storyline, and it hits hard. I liked the mom’s chapters better because she was such an interesting character and the daughter was just kind of like, “Oh darn, mom was a person I had no idea and now she’s dead oops.”
This is the third book I’ve read by Mary H.K. Choi now and dare I say she has become one of my favorite authors? The voices she feeds into her characters feel so real and effortless that they are real people you know, and you can HEAR their voices. The dialogue is punchy and realistic, and even when the characters show shittier, darker sides of themselves, you still can’t help but root for them. You have probably not watched the Korean drama Reply 1988, but two sisters in that show reminded me SO MUCH of our main characters in Yolk. To say they’re estranged is maybe a bit too drastic, but they definitely, as two young women in their early 20s, are not regular fixtures in each other’s lives. Until one finds out she may or may not have cancer. But even with subject matter that heavy, Choi manages to bring levity and humor into the situation and you can’t help but fall hard for these people. Or maybe you can, Henry probably could. But he’s heartless and not easily moved by much.
12. All You Can Ever Know – Nicole Chung
This is a memoir about a Korean woman who was adopted as an infant by a white American couple. One of the Goodread reviews said something along the lines of “this was good but should have just been an essay” and I agree with this because it did feel very repetitive at times, though it’s so very important for us to read about and try to gain more of an understanding of how difficult it is for minorities to grow up in America, let alone ADOPTED minorities. These children essentially have their culture and heritage robbed from them and, as an American bystander, it might seem like “the prospect of a ‘better’ life” is all that matters here but imagine how lonely it is to be the only one in a family who looks different, to the point where you feel like you don’t fit in there but then you’re also not “x”-enough to fit in with people of your own ethnicity.
13. American Betiya – Anuradha D. Rajurkar
Oh the anger I felt while reading this (not because the book was bad). Basically this cool Indian girl starts clandestinely dating some cringey, clingy, super problematic white kid because her traditional family has a strict no-dating policy while she’s in school, but she’s like eff that this creepy toxic asshole is totally into me and who cares if his friends are mildly racist and they all call me Princess Jasmine and then he makes me wear traditional Indian wedding garments before fucking me what he’s so not fetishizing my culture AT ALL.
You guys, I was screaming. Fuck that guy. This girl had the sweetest, most caring family and her grandma is visiting from India and all her mom wants is for her betiya to set up a goddamn Zoom call so they can talk to the grandfather in India but she’s too busy trying to make her emotionally abuse boyfriend happy and ew, just ew. I hated him so much.
This book is meant to make you burn up inside and it did its job.
14. A Very Large Expanse of Sea – Tahereh Mafi
Another book to get the blood boiling! This one takes place shortly after 911 and our main character here is a Muslim girl – Shirin – starting a new high school, but same ol’ racism and microaggressions. Oh and not just from the students – hoo boy no no no.
There is also a romance in this one but the love interest, Ocean, is actually not a fetishizer and his feelings for her are fucking pure.
Oh, this book pumped up my heart to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon proportions.
This was a quietly creepy psychological thriller about a Korean man, Ogi, who is recovering from a car accident in which his wife was killed, and now her mom is acting as his caregiver. He’s basically confined to his room and left to ruminate upon his marriage while the mother-in-law neglects him and starts digging holes in the garden.
I don’t really know what else to say about it. It was OK! But I think I was expecting it to be more scary.
16. Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong
OK not only was this one of the best books I read for Asian Read-a-Thon, it was also one of the best books I read all year and is a new instant favorite. As someone who reads a lot of different voices and genres, it’s sometimes hard for me to pinpoint exactly what KIND of book I like, and this is it. This writing. This is my JAM.
(LOL shit here I am the day after I posted this, realizing that I never even explained why I like this book or what it’s even about. Oh well, click the link I guess?! According to Goodreads, I updated twice during the reading process to say “This book is 100% my style” and “My soul had left my body.” So, there you go!)
17. Year of the Rabbit – Tian Veasna
This graphic novel is HEAVY AF. Just looking at the cover of it is making my eyes well up. It’s horrifying and . I didn’t know much about the genocide in Cambodia in the 70s, but now I do. This graphic novel did not hold back. It follows various members of the author’s family and the unreal horrors they endured (and not all overcame) in their efforts to escape Phnom Penh and start a new life as refugees. Totally sobering and heartbreaking, and especially infuriating to find out that only recently – nearly 5 decades later – have the people involved in the Khmer Rouge takeover been convicted and sentenced to life in prison—most of them are already dead and the ones who are still alive are already in their 80s.
I guess justice is justice, but damn.
This was definitely the heaviest, saddest graphic novel I have ever read.
I needed to end the read-a-thon with something light and luckily my copy of the Anna K sequel came in just in time. Anna K is a modern retelling of Anna Karenina mashed up with some Gossip Girl vibes. I mean, it’s OK, but I don’t really think it’s AS GREAT as the hype claims. However, I did like this one because Anna K is, well, away. And not just away anywhere – she’s in Seoul! So I really enjoyed those chapters but I gotta admit, the side characters are so vapid and I know, I know – that’s the point, but they can be vapid while still being interesting. As it stands, I just really don’t “love” anyone in this series except for Vronsky, but well, if you know you know.
My other issue with this book isn’t with the book itself but the narrator of the audiobook, Jenna Ushkowitz (of “Glee” fame). Because the main character Anna is Korean American, there are some basic Korean words tossed around, ESPECIALLY when she is in Seoul. Jenna’s pronunciations are extremely jarring and took me out of the story every time. Now, I understand that Jenna is Korean, but adopted when she was a baby by an American couple, so I don’t hold this against her but I’m kind of wondering how this was allowed to pass. Am I being nitpicky? I promise you, I fucking PINKY SWEAR, that I am not trying to be all know-it-all-y about this, I mean, my knowledge of the Korean language is BASE LEVEL. But!!!! I watch A LOT of Korean programming to the point where I know what it sounds like when someone is saying an extremely basic word like “halmeoni” which means grandma, and I have never heard it pronounced the way this narrator says it and it bothered me so much. It was like listening to Henry try to say “gochujang” on repeat. Am I being dramatic? Probably! But this really kind of brought the book down a coupla stars for me.