The heroine’s journey

Growing up is painful, physically and mentally. Being a girl adds to that pain exponentially. The world hurts girls in so many ways by taking advantage of their bodies and setting up unattainable gender expectations. The world sets so many rules about how girls should look and behave. (If you are a minority, there are rules within rules, spoken and unspoken, that you have to navigate.) You can either follow them and be in a lot of internal pain, or break them and have other people give you grief.

The pain doesn’t just come from men. It comes from women, from peers, from those younger and older than you, and from family and friends. Anyone can give you grief. That’s what happened in these books. I really admire girls and women because they come out of this broken but still together.

The classic story is the hero’s journey. A worthy character is one that makes the reader want to follow them until the end. I followed these heroine’s journeys to not the end, but to the beginnings when they reclaim their lives. I hope you will too.

Dear Twin by Addie Tsai

I met Addie at a reading at LibroMobile in November 2019, and before that at Kweli in April 2019. Addie is a queer Asian American author, and Dear Twin is her debut novel. She drew on her experience as a twin. During her talk at LibroMobile, Addie mentioned that there are few books about twins, and the ones that exist usually objectify twins. The fetishism obviously happens in real life too.

I don’t think I have ever read a book written from a twin’s perspective, and written by a twin. So this is an #OwnVoices novel! The relationship between twins, especially girl twins, can be so complicated. It’s at once having someone who knows you better than anyone else (and you are linked to them for life), but it’s also someone who maybe makes you feel a little less whole.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim

I met Jessica at Kweli 2019 also, and Stand Up, Yumi Chung is her debut with Kokila, an imprint that I’m a fan of. I really enjoyed this book because I relate to feeling different and wanting to do something different, even if it is totally left field like comedy. I also felt it when Yumi felt like her world was falling apart. Mostly, I just loved how Yumi reminds me of the middle schoolers I worked with!

Loveboat, Tapei by Abigail Hing Wen

I need to read and review this, especially because a sequel is coming out!

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

This book spoke to me as an Asian American growing up in Southern California. So many of the incidents here are realistic. Competitive high schools, ELD classes, the rift between 1st generation and ABC (American Born Chinese) kids — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s such a validating feeling to see the hyper-specific experiences your grew up with in print and in a book.

There are scenes that will make you angry. Although Claire is the protagonist, there are certain moments where I didn’t feel that sympathetic to her because even though she faces microaggressions, she is still incredibly privileged compared to someone like Dani and Ming. So you can imagine what girls who don’t have the looks or financial safety net have to deal with: all the harassment and none of the support to back them up. The only thing that disadvantaged women really have are each other, and their friends.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway (my first and only ever!) I donated it and I know it found a home. From the first few chapters I read, it seemed like The Handmaid’s Tale for teens.

I am slowly updating all these drafts and completing books from last year!


First-person POV books are fun to read because they make you feel like you’re following the hero along. There are some third-person books that I wish I could hear the main character speak for themselves (The Bluest Eye is one — I just want to hear from Pecola.) The books here are a mix of first- and third-person perspectives. I like how they play with unreliable narrators and give the reader a fuller picture of a character by having multiple characters describe them. The authors did it really skillfully!

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo is one in a trio of books about three girls and their unlikely friendship. Beverly, Louisiana and Raymie deserve so much better. I like how Kate DiCamillo’s books always leave me feeling hopeful, and they always include a cast of odd characters that seem to be exactly the ones they need at this particular moment in their lives.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman — I still have to read this one.

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay explores power dynamics: gender, race and class. This is Cynthia Salaysay’s debut, and she told a story that was personal and despite being “quiet,” the events in this book are like an earthquake in a young woman’s life. I’m reminded of Chanel Miller and the real incidents in high schools all over the country, and world, of adult authority figures preying on young women, and in some cases, young men. At the time it happens, the consequences of speaking up are too high: risk of not getting into college, alienating friends, parents disbelieving you, then blaming you. So I’m glad Salaysay wrote this story, and I champion the young women who it is for and have gone through something similar.

Vanished by Sheela Chari — I still have to read this one. It’s one of the first books I bought at LibroMobile when I was only a customer!

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh is told by a super unreliable narrator. I didn’t finish this because I found it hard to follow, literally. Ottessa Moshfegh’s other books are very raw and engaging, but this one was a little too isolated for me. I may give it another try.

Great nonfiction, continued!


It’s been great exploring nonfiction this year because there are many interesting perspectives.  Going in-depth on one topic is so satisfying. Also, I love reading blog posts, and reading essays has been a similar experience. It’s personal yet informational.

Here are three nonfiction books I read recently, that I have enjoyed.

Labor of Love by Moira Weigel is about dating. It talks about how dating came to be so much like work. When we use metaphors like “on/off the market,” it’s really not a metaphor because a good part of dating is transactional! Weigel describes the history of dating from the beginning of the 1900s to now, through the eras of “calling cards,” to going steady, to online dating.

One thing that Weigel does well is that she is mindful of the fact dating is not the same experience for middle class White daters and LGBT and/or Black daters. For example, working (and dating) outside the home might have been liberating and a big change for White women, but Black women have always had to work outside the home. The history of dating is a constant shift in power between dating partners. The book explores these shifts by answering these questions:

  • Where does dating take place? In the home, outside, on the internet?
  • How do social forces like schooling, technology, and feminism affect dating?
  • In what ways does dating become work?

I really enjoyed this book. Weirdly, I did not come away feeling pessimistic about relationships. I agree with the author’s conclusion — dating (and to that end, procreating) is incredibly creative and changes the world.

The Pretty One by Keah Brown

I follow Keah on Twitter, and just like on social media, she is vulnerable and speaks candidly about being a disabled, queer, Black woman. She created the #disabledandcute hashtag. She loves pop culture and is an entertainment journalist. She’s a big fan of Paramore. It was like getting to know a friend, and I love how The Pretty One is not strictly a memoir but also her thoughts on pop culture. The truth is, pop culture does a really poor job of representing people like Keah, but that doesn’t stop her from being a fan of it and talking about it. And I’m very glad she has a voice.

Read alike: This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Period Power by Nadya Okamoto

Nadya is incredible! I got into the menstrual movement last year and even though periods are just one out of many forms of inequality that comes with having a female body, it is worth talking about. It’s such a basic need that when it is ignored or not being met, it has a huge impact on daily life. Okamoto talks about how talking to homeless women about their menstrual needs, opened her eyes.

From these three books, I’m learning that for any feminist discussion to be productive, it has to be intersectional. It’s not enough to say that women are being short-changed in dating, in disability, and in menstruation. There is a hierarchy within those forums. Being able-bodied and cis-gendered means that I have privileges that make my experience more comfortable.

I’m grateful to these writers for sharing their knowledge and perspectives.


A Tear in the Ocean by H. M. Bouwman

I loved A Crack in the Sea. It was such a unique cross-genre book! I loved Rayel, Artie, and Putnam here too. Rayel’s character spoke the most to me. She has been hurt many times, and the saddest part of the book was when Una/Nunu had a falling out with her. I like that the book doesn’t shy away from child abuse, arranged marriages and how strong children are. They survive these hardships and go on to build new lives, even if the scars remain. You’re not going to get better or be as happy as before those traumas. But you can build a new life – and that’s an encouraging message.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar / illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

I love short stories! This was such a fun read. The stories are like riddles / brain teasers. If you like Encyclopedia Brown, you will enjoy this. The prince Veera and his best friend Suku take court and solve a variety of dilemmas that citizens have. Neighborhood quarrels and greedy merchants are put in their place.

Here’s to short stories and essays, written by women and written for everyone!

Constructing and reconstructing reality in YA lit

Two of these books are based on real events, one is an imagining of the future, and one is an imagining of the past. Whether it’s real or imagined, building a rich world helps the reader get into a story. I came to appreciate that more this year because I have been diving deep into certain topics. I enjoy longform nonfiction and realistic fiction that offer a lot of context for explaining why characters do what they do, and the risks and rewards they face in their world.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

This book has been on my list for a long time and I’m so glad I finally read it. Slater is a journalist and this true event was originally about a Black teen who lit a nonbinary teen’s skirt on fire. By talking to people from Sasha’s parents to Richard’s counselor, Slater was able to find what happened before that eventful day and the aftermath. Justice is not straightforward, and The 57 Bus challenges our assumptions about it. Juvenile crimes, teenage impulses, and the process of figuring yourself out — no single court decision can capture all of that. If only we could look at more crimes and events with the level of questioning and research that happens in The 57 Bus. 

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

Rebels can either want to build a new world, or they can fight hard for the world that used to be. Rebel Seoul is Lee Jaewon’s story about choosing an alliance, being a weapon vs. a person, and coming to terms with who your parents are. Jaewon’s father is an idealistic rebel who fought for the Old Seoul. Jaewon lives in Neo Seoul, during sometime in the future when Asian countries have become an alliance, after 50 years of war.

Oh is not only writing about God Machines, simulations and technologies, but she is also constructing history. I enjoyed this story for the fast pace and I felt the tug of war that Jaewon was facing.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Towers Falling is set 15 years after 9/11. Rhodes, the author of Ghost Boys, writes in such a poetic way. Kids like Dèja, born after 2001, are still living in the aftermath of 9/11. It isn’t just a historical event, but personal in the way it affects witnesses and survivors. Dèja’s father worked in one of the towers and he has been suffering from PTSD ever since 2001. This is a great book for social studies and looks at the impact events have on individuals, families, schools and communities.

Did not finish

Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson – I have heard so many great things about M.T. Anderson, and this book was written in a unique format with documents. Anderson really was consutructing history. I may return to this someday but not now.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins – This is Suzanne Collins’s debut book, so of course I wanted to read it. I honestly only didn’t because I ran out of time and the book was due. I will have to get to it someday! The Hunger Games was great at worldbuilding, and I want to see how Collins did it here.