Category Archives: ..Young Adult Readers

what did you eat yesterday? (vol. 1) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by Maya Rosewood

What Did You Eat Yesterday 1Before you open this tasty title, ask your stomach if it’s full. Any hint of hunger and you just might embarrass yourself salivating. The cover is already a toothsome teaser: salmon-and-burdock seasoned mixed rice, boiled bamboo shoots with konjac and wakame seaweed, eggplants and tomatoes with Chinese-style spicy pork. Oh, be still my growling belly.

While the food here is the obvious temptation, the narrative is not without considerable substance. Meet “tall and handsome” Shiro Kakei, who is “that pretty at forty-three” as to be deemed “creepy” by one of his jealous colleagues. As successful a lawyer as he is by day, he eschews long hours to pick up the freshest ingredients – always at the best prices so as to keep within the household budget – which he’ll transform into his next gourmet meal. He cooks with devotion for his boyfriend Kenji who is as carefree and fun-loving and as Shiro is disciplined and practical … especially about money. “Since we gays won’t have any kids to look after us in our old age, money is all we can count on,” Shiro chides Kenji when Kenji complains about Shiro’s “love” of money.

Blended in with tempting recipes (complete with enough detailed instructions to suggest you, too, could try this at home), each savory chapter reveals Shiro’s life as an attractive gay man in contemporary Japan. He’s in a committed relationship, although he had a past before he and Kenji set up house. He is out to his parents, dines with them regularly, but they’ve yet to invite Kenji to their home. “Your mother is prepared to accept all of you, whether you’re gay, or a criminal!” she assures Kenji, to which he silently retorts, “So I’m the same as a criminal in Mom’s eyes …”

He has a cooking buddy, Kayoko, a housewife whose family also enjoys Shiro’s chef-ly exchanges, to whom he confides his wish that his mother would “interact quite naturally” with him as Kayoko does. Her response is surprisingly disturbing: “It’s not like you’re my son. If my daughter suddenly told me one day that she’s a lesbian, I can’t say for sure that I’d be able to take it in calmly,” she admits. Well, with friends like that …!!

Volume 1 has certainly whet the appetite with bittersweet tensions and challenges, not to mention ever more delectable dishes to try. Will Shiro ever show his true self to his colleagues? How will his parents react to finally meeting Kenji, hopefully sooner than later? And will Kayoko and Shiro continue to make enticing meals together? Get your tastebuds ready: volume 2 hits shelves later this month.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2007 (Japan), 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay, illustrations by Sophia Janowitz

No Matter the WreckageGoodness gracious! I have so much to tell you about this book! Allow me to lay out some pre-reading, preparatory directions:

First, go meet Sarah Kay through her 2011 TED debut. She is so expressive and impressive both, that watching her once will give you the magical ability to hear her read the rest of her poems.

Second, now that you’ve seen and heard “B” on a stage, go find the perfect little book of the same name because that will give you yet another enhancing experience, including introducing you to the whimsical art of illustrator Sophia Janowitz, whom Kay met when both were three months old, and are therefore bound together for life. Additional note: you’ll get to know Sophia in “Slivers.”

Third, check out Project VOICE, an organization that “inspires youth self-expression through Spoken Word Poetry,” which Kay founded and co-directs with her creative partner Phil Kaye (not to be confused with her brother Phil Kay, as Sarah is not to be confused with partner Phil’s sister Aurora Sarah Kaye; bewildered? click here to learn how they are not related, nor married, nor dating, but they are somehow “two sides of the same coin”).

Now, perhaps you’re ready for Kay and Janowitz both, and their gem-like latest collaboration, No Matter the Wreckage.

What you’ll find here are a decade of expressions from an artist as a child growing into a multi-talented, multi-faceted adult. From sibling rivalry to lost love, from strangers to ancestors, from waiting to arriving, from expectations to paradoxes, Kay writes with honesty, challenge, curiosity, and always commitment.

Perhaps because of her youth (she’s just 25), a few of her early-love verses are some of the weaker links, but she makes up for any adolescent angst when she moves out in the world, exploring inequity in South Africa in “Shosholoza,” exploring extended family history in “Hiroshima,” and promising to messenger someone else’s hopeless adoration in India in “Peacocks.” She returns often to the bond with her younger brother, which provides gorgeously resonating moments in “Montauk,” “Brother,” and especially “Ghost Ship,” which inspires the collection’s title from a slightly different line, “No matter your wreckage.” She watches her parents with questioning, sometimes frightened eyes in “Hands,” “Something We Don’t Talk About, Part I,” “Dragons,” and “Hand-Me Downs.” She reaches out to her own child-to-be, once again in “B,” which of course is included here.

No, trust me. You don’t want to miss a thing,” she tells an unnamed lover in the final line of the first poem. So perfectly placed is that welcome advice, because indeed, you truly will not want to miss a moment, a phrase, a performance by the stupendous Sarah Kay.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Poetry, Hapa

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

This One SummerCanadian cousins Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki‘s first collaboration, Skim, won enough major awards to make their second title an eagerly anticipated publishing event. Get ready because This One Summer hits shelves May 6. And here’s the bottom line: Summer is spectacular without a chance of sophomoric slump in sight.

“Okay. Awago Beach is this place. Where my family goes every summer. Ever since … like … forever,” Rose explains as the graphic novel begins. As soon as she arrives with her parents and dumps her suitcase, she goes in search of her “summer cottage friend,” Windy, who will be her constant companion on the beach, at the single sundries store, in front of the screen watching rented scary movies, and more. Windy’s house is often a refuge from the tension and bitter words Rose’s parents lob at one another – her mother is distant and withdrawn, her father angry and confused, and Rose caught somewhere in between.

But this one summer, high drama is also happening in the tiny waterside village among the local teenagers. Rose, who is a year-and-a-half older than Windy, listens closely when she can and learns that Dunc and Jenny are a couple, that a pregnancy might be someone’s unwanted reality. She tries out new words like ‘drunks’ and ‘sluts,’ and is duly disciplined by surprised mothers. As her parents’ relationship becomes more tenuous, Rose pushes away from her childhood toward new adolescent angst, fears, and shattering discoveries. Life after This One Summer ‘since … like … forever’ … will never be the same again.

Rose is a wide-eyed narrator, approaching adolescence with cautious wariness as she navigates through the troubled relationships around her, between young lovers who are just a few years older to parents who were supposed to stay together forever. The Tamaki cousins are undoubtedly two for two, once more capturing the uncertainty and doubt of growing up and pulling away, of knowing too much and not nearly enough. Given their hit record, their third time should be quite the charm.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Canadian, Canadian Asian Pacific American

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Interrogation of Ashala WolfAs I feel I know so little about the literature of our Down Under friends, I admit I’m surprised to find I’ve posted almost 30 titles with Australian origins here on BookDragon thus far. If you were to pop-quiz me on Aussie authors, my instant answers would be Marcus Zusak (Mr. Book Thief himself), Oscar-winning writer and illustrator Shaun Tan, and graphic novelist Diana Thung. I certainly couldn’t name a single indigenous Australian author … until now.

Meet Ambelin Kwaymullina, an award-winning children’s writer and illustrator, who makes her novel debut with Ashala Wolf, Book 1 of the Tribe series. [Lucky Australian readers had The Tribe Book 2: The Disappearance of Ember Crow hit shelves in November 2013, with the second half of the series scheduled for 2014 and 2015; Stateside readers can only hope the next three titles will follow sooner than later.] Kwaymullina comes from generations of storytellers of the Palyku people of western Australia’s Pilbara region. “Aboriginal people of Australia have the oldest continuous living culture on earth,” she writes in her illuminating “Author’s Note.” “We are not a single homogenous group; we are many nations, and we hail from diverse homelands. We call our homelands our Countries.”

From her vast heritage, Kwaymullina creates the brave new world of Ashala Wolf, who “carries that ancient bloodline and has the deep connection to [her home] Firstwood that present-day Aboriginal people have to their Countries.” Somewhere, sometime in a post-apocalyptic future, children become the greatest threat to an all-too-controlling government desperate to keep what’s left of the world’s Balance. These children can start fires, cause earthquakes, shift clouds, fly, and more. Branded as Illegals when their abilities begin to surface, they’re shackled with power-inhibiting collars and imprisoned. Somehow, a few manage to escape. Firstwood is their Illegal haven, home to the Tribe and its 16-year-old leader Ashala. She’s a powerful Sleepwalker, which allows her to do anything in her dreams. In trying to save one of her own, she’s been caught at novel’s opening and is facing interrogation by an insidious official determined to break her with ‘the machine’ which will invade her memories and reveal all her secrets …

Yes, Interrogation might be labelled sci-fi dystopia, but its narrative twists and turns – not to mention its mind games, literally! – shatters any predictability. “[I]n writing about the Tribe,” Kwaymullina says, “I thought about the way the [Aboriginal] Elders draw you into a tale that is always more than it first appears. I thought, too, about the generations of Palyku women who have gone before me …” In blending past and future, Kwaymullina has undoubtedly found her own present Balance.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012 (Australia), 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Australian

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

Moon at NineAt 15, Farrin is the privileged only child in a tense, unhappy, albeit very wealthy family. Her father runs a construction company that takes advantage of illegal, desperate Afghan workers to make big profits. As successful as he might be, Farrin’s mother continuously laments that she has married beneath her aristocratic standing. Portraits of the Shah have been replaced for 10 years with that of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Revolutionary Guard have eyes and ears everywhere.

In this restrictive environment, Farrin is lucky to still be able to go to school at all – especially one for gifted girls. But she has no friends there, and is often bullied by the head girl, Pargol. And then new student Sadira arrives: for the first time, Farrin has an ally and companion. Their affection soon grows into something more … but their joy and devotion morph into ammunition for Pargol to torment the girls. The consequences for falling in love escalate far beyond their school and their families, until each is abandoned to fight for their very lives.

In 1988 Tehran, homosexuality is punishable by execution. In her ending “Author’s Note,” mega award-winning Canadian author Deborah Ellis best known for her Breadwinner tetralogy – who has built a renowned international reputation for giving voice to children in the most challenging circumstances around the world – explains how her latest novel is true. “At the beginning of the summer of 2013, I met a woman who told me about her early years in Iran … Some of the details have been changed, but this story is essentially hers.”

Adding a succinct historical overview of Iran’s history, Ellis is careful to balance details of Ayatollah Khomeini’s destructive regime with the rich diversity – especially artistically – of the country’s past. But neither does she shy away from the shocking numbers of tragic victims as they relate to this novel: “According to the Iranian gay human rights group Homan, over 4,000 lesbian and gay Iranians have been executed since 1979.” Iran is not alone in its punishment – Ellis names six countries that execute their homosexual citizens as of the end of 2013, and more than 70 countries that deem homosexuality illegal. In light of such horrific restrictions, her final paragraph is both declaration and hope: “As a proud, gay woman, I am honored to have been entrusted with the story of Farrin and Sadira, and I hope that the real-life Farrin will be able to spend the rest of her life with whatever peace and happiness she is able to find.”

As more and more states strike down anti-gay marriage laws, Moon at Nine is a chilling reminder of the suffering of too many others deprived not only of love, but their very lives. As difficult as it is to read – the ending is especially piercing – its importance is hard to deny.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Canadian, Iranian

Insufficient Direction by Moyoco Anno, translated by Satsuki Yamashita

Insufficient DirectionIf you can get over the initially disturbing caricatures of a toddler and bearded man as the two married-to-each-other protagonists, you’re in for some ingenious, goofy fun. [Having had a parent at our kids’ school be convicted as one of the country’s worst child pornographers – a high-power civil rights lawyer, egads! – I admit my cynical wariness remains on high alert, even over a decade later.] Admittedly, the toddler/adult trope aptly represents the comical relationship here: both wife and husband are elite members of the manga/anime industry, but the husband happens to be inarguably legendary while his younger wife perceives herself to be still in training.

Insufficient Direction begins with a disclaimer: “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” Don’t believe too much of that: wait for the disclaimer to the disclaimer at title’s end. Let the first sentence of the second paragraph be your guide: “To have your life exposed to the public is the fate of anyone who marries a manga artist.”

Creator Moyoco Anno, aka Rompers, is that manga artist, who portrays herself here with just a sprout of hair, bouncing across the pages in a onesie and bib. In real life, her immature self-portrait is a bit misleading: Anno is an award-winning, bestselling manga star in her own right. Her bearded other half is not quite a decade older, whom she addresses as ‘Director-kun,’ which recognizes both his elevated public status as well as her affection for him with the ‘-kun‘ suffix. In real life, hubby is the animator and film director Hideaki Anno who, for anyone familiar with anime, will recognize him as the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of history’s most successful series ever.

Regardless of their fame outside the walls of their home, Rompers and Director-kun are also just regular folk – who happen to communicate via manga and anime scripts and lyrics, decorate their space with plastic imaginary friends, and forgo sleep far too often to watch cartoons all night. Somehow in between their otaku obsessions, the rest of life occasionally demands attention –wedding plans, food, weight gain, house-hunting, work, and other such mundane pursuits. Complementary lovebirds that they are, somehow they manage to have way too much fun. Take a peek and join in.

Tidbit: For potential readers who themselves are not otaku, no worries! You can choose to read this as a purely entertaining, rather funny love story. For those with varying degrees of knowledge and interest in manga and anime, your reading might be that much heightened (and/or tested), depending on how high your fandom meter might go. For maximum enjoyment, an exhaustive, almost-30-page “Annotations” section appears at manga’s end, co-compiled by publisher Vertical, Inc.‘s own Ed Chavez. Now you know – as much as you might want to!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2005 (Japan), 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Bird by Crystal Chan

BirdIn the small town of Caledonia, Iowa, Jewel stands out: she’s “‘half-Jamaican, a quarter white, and a quarter Mexican.'” As if to provide a physical embodiment of Jewel’s hapa background, the audible producers cast Amandla Stenberg, who played the heartbreaking role of young Rue in the film version of The Hunger Games. No doubt, Stenberg’s nuanced narration is a literary gift.

While Jewel’s appearance marks her as different in Caledonia, her family’s tragedy is what most circumscribes her young life. On the day she was born, her 5-year-old brother John – called Bird for “the way he kept jumping off things” – plummeted off a nearby cliff as he “tried to fly.” With his death, Grandpa stopped talking. Birthdays, understandably, were the most difficult of all: “I’ve always had to share my special day with the silence behind Grandpa’s closed door and the silence at the cemetery and the silence that hangs thick between Mom and Dad’s words.”

On the night of her 12th birthday, Jewel finds a stranger in “her” tree: a boy named John who is as “dark as the night sky,” who introduces himself as a neighbor’s visiting nephew from Virginia. He bluntly explains his lack of family resemblance: “‘I’m adopted. Raised by white people. It’s not as bad as it sounds.'” As the two become fast friends, Grandpa becomes agitated to the point of violence; he’s convinced that John is a “duppy” – an evil spirit from Caribbean folklore that Grandpa and Jewel’s father believe caused Bird’s death. Yet John’s possible resemblance to a brother she never knew makes him that much more intriguing to Jewel. For the rest of her family, John’s presence is both threatening and comforting, and eventually forces the too-many secrets to break through their silent surface.

Debut author Crystal Chan clearly shares a Midwest, small-town, mixed-race background with her protagonist: in addition to her bio, her author website offers a fun FAQ page with the question “What mix are you?” Her answer, complete with two photographs as a child with each parent, is: “My dad is from Hong Kong, and my mom is from Wisconsin and is of Polish descent. So I grew up eating pierogies, along with stir fry.”

Chan writes deftly not only about being different surrounded by homogeneity, but the conflict within those differences for both Jewel and transracially adopted John. Bird proves to be an empathetic, resonating read, full of wisdom, grace, hope, and – of course – the greatest love.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, African American, Carribbean American, Chinese American, Hapa, Latino/a

Look Who’s Morphing by Tom Cho

Look Who's MorphingEach of Tom Cho‘s 18 stories in his just-over 100-page-debut is a surprise waiting to happen to you. Already lauded and awarded in Cho’s native Australia, his Stateside arrival is sure to elicit gasps, guffaws, and more.

Welcome to half a century of pop culture icons – before you ask ‘how can pop culture be that old?’ allow me to point out that ‘the hills came alive’ 49 years ago on a screen near you back in 1965. That said, Cho’s Captain Von Trapp isn’t who you might expect. In fact, morphing proves to be the occupational hazard of choice throughout.

“Suitmation” has a different identity available to anyone and everyone, from Godzilla to Olivia Newton-John, while two siblings admit in “Dinner with My Brother” they might choose “Marlon Brando” and “Indiana Jones” over their own Chinese monikers, given the chance. “Dinner with Auntie Ling and Uncle Wang” becomes a computer adventure, and “Learning English” means hiring Bruce Willis to talk instead. Inner rage goes out of control in “Today on Dr. Phil,” while “The Bodyguard” chivalrously deals with a bionic stalker to save Whitney Houston. Mother and son get transformative makeovers in “I, Robot,” and the girlfriend dismisses a Muppets adventure in “Pinocchio.”

As the stories unfold in surreal glimpses, a blurred outline of the unnamed narrator emerges: a Chinese Australian young man with extended relatives on multiple continents, including parents and a brother Hank, who has a sometime girlfriend Tara among many, many lovers, who is driven by a fertile imagination without boundaries – not to mention quite the multi-platform command of TV, film, music, and games. In his many morphing guises, Cho explores a myriad of unexpected identities and impossible situations. This is fluid fiction, he seems to insist on every page: forget any expectations about culture, race, gender, sexuality, and more … embrace the pure, fantastical stories found here.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009 (Australia), 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Australian

Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers by John Harris Dunning, art by Nikhil Singh

Salem BrownstoneSalem Brownstone, once the proprietor of the Sit & Spin Laundromat, gets an ominous telegram (on Halloween, naturally) calling him to New Mecco City, Azania to “take immediate possession of his [late father’s] house and the contents therein.” His mourning – “[a]fter all these years of wanting to know my father, now it’s too late. I’ve lost him” – is short-lived when he discovers an intruder in the manse …

Before Salem has time to get better acquainted with visiting Cassandra Contortionist, who knew his father, the Shadow Boys descend. Uh-oh. Cassandra passes Salem the “scrying ball” which belonged to Salem’s father, with warnings that he must always keep it safe. Injured during their escape, Salem wakes up surrounded by the many creatures of Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Delights. As Salem recovers, many strange occurrences happen, not the least of which include evil, dark plans to take over the universe. Salem, of course, holds the key – I mean the ball – to keeping the world in balance.

While the plot follows a rather straightforward good vs. evil narrative, the art is anything but predictable. As revealed in artist Nikhil Singh’s bio notes, the panels were seven years in the drawing with a major move in between for both creators from South Africa to London. From Salem’s single expressively squiggly eyebrow, to the mysterious Lola Q’s eyepatch, to Ed Harm’s stages of mutant transformation, and so much more, Singh’s irreverent, protean imagination is clearly manifested in the myriad tiny, peculiar elements of each panel.

Reading swiftly through will restore your sense of goodness and safety, but you’ll find you need to go back again and again)to make sure you haven’t missed any important details. After all, the fate of the universe lies between these glorious, mercurial pages.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2010 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, British, British Asian, South African

Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

Dust of EdenPlease correct me if I’m wrong here: The Japanese American imprisonment has been the focus of many, many titles for audiences of all ages, via fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, plays, graphic titles, picture books, and more, but I believe Mariko Nagai‘s Dust of Eden is the first novel in verse on the subject. Again, please enlighten me otherwise …

Mina Masako Tagawa, 13, lives in Seattle with her journalist father, her homemaker mother, her rose breeder grandfather, and her track star older brother Nick. Her cat is named Basho, her best friend is Jamie. Until December 7, 1941, Mina is an ordinary American girl, and then suddenly she is reduced to a “Jap“: “We are not Americans, the eyes tell us. / We do not belong, the mouths curl up. / We are the enemy aliens, the Japs.”

Mina and her family are among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent taken from their homes and imprisoned during World War II. First Mina’s father is arrested without cause. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, the family is given a week to gather their belongings. They are initially “evacuated” to the horse stalls of Camp Harmony in Puyallup, 30 miles south of Seattle, until they are shuttled away by cattle train to the remote dust fields of Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho. “We held our breath for three / years. We did not have anything to call / our own …”

Those three years bring separation, isolation, devastation. Jamie is Mina’s one constant on the outside. One teacher renames the students with “American names. / So we can be more American, / she says.  So we will be less / the enemy alien”; a more thoughtful teacher returns the children’s identities. Father is released, only to watch Nick demonstrate his loyalty to the government that imprisoned him by offering his very life.

Nagai captures a family in flux, caught in someone else’s blame, struggling to stay together, fighting to understand. Perhaps because Nagai herself is Japanese-born and currently Tokyo-domiciled, her final “Epilogue” – a letter sent by Nick from the other side of the world – is especially compelling. While nothing is particularly new here, Nagai’s crystalline phrases, stanzas, lines that barely cover 120 pages prove gorgeously resonating.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014


Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Poetry, Japanese American