I first heard of Gloria Chao through the podcast 88 Cups of Tea’s private facebook group. And when I heard of her book American Panda, I was super excited to read a YA novel set in college. We need more of these! Seventeen-year-old Mei skipped a grade and is starting freshman year at MIT a year early. This is all part of her immigrant parents’ plan for her. A plan that involves becoming a doctor and marrying another Taiwanese-American over-achiever. A plan that also ignores Mei’s passion for dance and phobia of germs. Mei knows how much she owes to her parents and tries to follow their wishes. But the freedom of college, a crush on a dreamy Japanese-American biology major, and long buried secrets make Mei rethink following her parents wishes. But making her own decisions might mean losing the family that she loves. This own voices story is full of cultural details, romantic moments, and laugh-out-loud awkwardness. One of my favorite things is that many different Taiwanese-American families are portrayed in the story, keeping any one character or family from seeming to represent an entire culture.
There has been so much buzz around Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi in the YA book community, and it is so well-deserved. The fantasy story is inspired by West African mythology and tackles issues of racial persecution with expertise. Zeli, the daughter of a powerful maji, lives in a land where both magic and her mother have been taken away. With dark skin and light hair – the traits of a maji – she’s called a maggot, taxed unfairly, and discriminated against daily. But a chance encounter with a runaway princess and an enchanted scroll that can bring magic back to the land give Zellie hope. She sets off on a quest with her brother and the princess, working to evade the prince with a secret coming after them and restore magic to the land before it’s lost forever. The writing is vivid. Seriously, the sentences read like poetry and each detail makes the world come alive. The books multi-perspective chapters give insight into well drawn characters. And with extremely high stakes this book moves.
I love love loved Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series when I read it years ago (Team Warner 4 Life!!!). And I was skeptical when I heard there would be a new trilogy set in this world. Skeptical but excited, because Tahereh Mafi’s prose is like eating creme brûlée with a spoon. But I thought the story was over. The even dictator had been vanquished. The heroine had taken control of the government. What else could happen? How wrong I was. Juliet is trying to rule a new land with complicated international relations and forge a real relationship with Warner and discover more about her dark past. Of course, there is a story there. Of course there is. And I fell deep into the story just as I had in each previous book. I loved the characters. I felt shocked by the twists. And I savored the rich writing style. I’m eagerly awaiting the next two books in the series!