American Panda by Gloria Chao

Genre: YA contemporary
Secondary genre: romance
Representation: OCD coding, East Asian (multiple, mostly Taiwanese)
Content warning: “tricky families”
Format read: ebook
Rating: planchet-5

Mei’s parents have a PLAN. After graduating early and attending MIT, she’s going to become a doctor, marry a nice Taiwanese boy, and have a bunch of kids.

At seventeen, Mei has played along for her entire life. It seemed like a good plan. Especially after her older brother was disowned. The last thing she wanted to do was let down her parents.

But as her first semester of pre-med drags on, it becomes clearer and clearer that she is not cut out for med school. She can’t even go into a public bathroom without the urge to spray everything in Lysol, or shake hands with someone without whipping out the hand sanitizer immediately afterward.

The fact that her crush is definitely not Taiwanese is just the cherry on top of a Mei-shaped sundae.

Torn between her loyalty to her family and her own desires, Mei must come to terms with not only her own feelings, but a pile of secrets, misinformation, and tradition her family has been sitting on for years.

For those of you not familiar, “tricky families” is a label used by psychologists to label families that work well on paper and look great from the outside, but cover loads of emotional and psychological abuse and neglect. Having been raised in a “tricky family,” I know the feeling all to well, though my situation was quite different. I highly recommend this book for anyone who comes from a similar background, or anyone who is looking for an emotional Asian-American led story, or a book focusing on the transition to college life.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Genre: Adult contemporary romance
Representation: Vietnamese, mixed race, autism
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Kiss Quotient book 2
Rating: planchet-4

Khai is autistic.

To his Vietnamese family, this word doesn’t really mean much–autism isn’t much recognized in Vietnam. To them, he’s just…odd. But he’s family, so they accept him despite his foibles.

Except for one thing: Khai’s mother is convinced he needs a good wife. To that end, she travels back to her home country in order to arrange for a good, Vietnamese girl for him.

After interviewing dozens of wealthy, beautiful applicants and finding all of them wanting in the personality department, she finds her son’s perfect match in an unexpected place: a hotel bathroom. Tran Ngoc My is a hotel maid who spends most of her time scrubbing toilets. She has the routine down to a science–she’s very good at making sure everything is just so, and takes great satisfaction in a job well done.

Mrs. Diep makes her an offer she can’t refuse: $20,000 US to come to America for a summer and woo her son. If he doesn’t like her, she can go home at the end with no consequences. If he likes her, then she’ll have a husband by September.

There’s just one catch: My has a little girl waiting for her at home, and Khai makes it very clear he never wants children. Will the two of them be able to find common ground, despite their secrets?

I loved The Kiss Quotient and was super excited to pick up the next book in this series. While The Bride Test is set in the same world, it follows a different group of characters, though we do see some familiar faces from the first book.

I really, really liked My. I also really liked Khai (I think I mentioned in my review of the first book that I wanted a story from his perspective, and here we are!), but there were some questionable elements in this book. I thought the way Mrs. Diep behaved, both in trying to find a wife for her son without consulting him and then forcing them to live together for three months was completely unacceptable. I’m willing to chalk that up to cultural differences, since it was very clear that she was a caring woman, but it still made me angry. If I were Khai and someone just showed up on my doorstep like that, I’d blow a gasket.

I also had a problem with some of Khai’s anger issues. A lot of it comes from him genuinely not understanding My’s emotions or certain social situations or norms, but at one point he completely blows up at her in public and manhandles her, which was not okay, and I don’t think he ever apologizes for it, not really.

I would have also liked to see My look into autism more, to try to get a better understanding of what this foreign word means rather than blundering around blindly and walking on egg shells.

All in all, I did think it was a good follow up, though. I’d be happy to read a third book in the series if one was ever written, but I also really like that it’s 2 loosely connected independent volumes.

 

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: hard copy
Content warning: extreme diets
Rep: POC (S. Korean), mental illness (anxiety)
Rating: planchet-4

Lucky is a K-Pop superstar, and she’s 48-hours from her career skyrocketing into entirely new territory: she’s about to debut on an American late-night now, an honor few Korean pop stars see. If all goes well, she’ll go from being one of the most popular solo artists in a tiny country to being an international hit.

But Lucky can’t manage the enthusiasm everyone else has for the show. She’s supposed to be grateful, but as she sits in her hotel room after another exhausting show, it occurs to her that as much as she loves singing and performing, her passion for being “Lucky”, the pink-haired, 5’10” phenomenon known for her thigh-high silver stiletto boots, has waned in the past several years. Everything is routine.

It starts out as a simple quest: a hamburger. Shouldn’t be too hard to find at 11pm in one of the busiest cities in the world, right? Lucky sneaks past her handlers and security and out onto the lively Hong Kong streets. But one thing she doesn’t account for are her anxiety and sleeping pills kicking in at just that moment, leaving her dazed and apparently drunk, sleeping on a bus.

Jack, a Korean-American photographer who has been living in Hong Kong since high school, finds Lucky passed out on said bus. He doesn’t recognize her at first, but can’t seem to leave the poor drunk girl wandering around in her hotel slippers alone. Afraid she’ll run into trouble, he tries to take her back to the hotel but instead ends up following her around the city as her drugged brain leads her from one shiny object to another.

When she finally passes out for good, he takes her back to his apartment so she can sleep off whatever is in her system. It’s then that Jack, who moonlights for a tabloid, realizes “Fern,” the drunk girl he picked up on a city bus, is really Lucky.

Both of them are looking for escape. Once their paths cross, adventure follows as Jack shows sheltered Lucky around the city he calls home.

I loved every single page of this book. It helps that I’m a big fan of K-pop myself, and there was a lot of the culture behind the media in just the first few pages: the expectations to be grateful, to work hard, to always be perfect, both in appearance and behavior.

If you were a fan of the Laura Jean series, this is a good step up, straddling the line between YA and New Adult (the romance is light and doesn’t go very far; I’m referring more to the age group NA is aimed at). If you’ve ever questioned your path in life, then this is a must-read.