It’s been a very tough year and I feel lost every other day. So it’s been nice to read books that are comfortable but still have a challenging and persevering feel. Here are five that I read recently that happen to be #OwnVoices, written by Asian American and Native American authors.
My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva is a realistic MG story with the Drug War in the background. (See Patron Saints of Nothing for a powerful YA telling of what’s going on in the Philippines.) In it, Sab (short for Sabrina) sees a black butterfly, an omen that she or someone close to her is about to die. She figures she only has one week left to live and decides to find out why her sister has refused to speak to her dad. Despite being a MG novel, My Fate manages to look into colonialism, colorism, politics and free speech. I have a craving for Filipino stories and I’m so glad Villanueva is writing them for a younger audience.
Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan is a translation of a Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning Chinese novel. I read it in 2017 and it was one of the books that started my down the reading journey that I am now on. The background is the Cultural Revolution, which brutalized the lives of artists, intellectuals and the middle-upper class. Sunflower is the daughter of an artist and she gets sort of adopted into Bronze’s family. The story is heartbreaking but so, so good. It is one of my favorites.
I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn is a fluffy, romantic story about a Japanese American girl visiting her grandparents in Japan during spring break. Her quest is to find herself, and she does that along with meeting a cute pre-med boy who dresses up as a mochi mascot. This story is exactly what I needed during a time when we couldn’t travel or feel even very romantic at all. I love how the anime vibes: how clueless Kimi is and how caring and committed Akira is. Read this for a fun getaway!
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell is such a special book. The author passed away before she could complete it, and she gave it to her friend to complete the draft. All the women who helped bring this book to life–author, coauthor, editor, cover illustrator–are Native, even though they are from different tribes. The story is based on the author’s childhood, moving from the Grande Ronde in Oregon to Los Angeles due to tribe termination. It literally forcefully removed their identity, and the Umpqua members became the walking dead. It also occurred during the Civil Rights era, when there was racism toward Black Americans. This book should be paired with I Can Make This Promise. The US government really deleted every aspect of Native American life from this country and it is criminal. I’m so glad Native writers are writing about their families and presenting a more accurate picture of their lives.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park is about a half-Chinese, half white girl, Hanna, who moves to the frontier with her father. Her mother was a seamstress and passed on the skill of sewing to her. Hanna encounters racism at school in the 1890s, and unfortunately the comments she hears are not all that different from the comments an Asian American girl might hear today. Park wrote Prairie Lotus as an alternative to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, which was racist toward Native Americans. This book made me think of how many untold stories there are, and what kind of images we conjure when we think of an era.
In review, the protagonists in these books faced deep challenges, but I still found it comforting to hear their stories because I am experiencing a deeply challenging time myself. Thank you to #OwnVoices books for making me feel seen.