Mini-review: What’s Left of Me

what's left of meTitle: What’s Left of Me
Author: Kat Zhang
Pages: 343
Genre: science fiction, dystopian
Publisher: Harper
Review Copy: library (that beautiful place)
Availability: September 18, 2012

(image from Goodreads)

Instead of a book summary, have a book trailer!

Review: Though science-fiction/dystopian isn’t really my cup of tea, I’ve been trying to read more of it lately — and enjoying it. What’s Left of Me is a fast-paced story with a sort of Golden Compass feel to it, what with the double souls and the dark hospital experiments. The world-building in the book is tight and fascinating. The book’s treatment of foreigners in the non-hybrid Americas was interesting, and reminded me of the controversy around immigration reform that’s happening today. It’s easy to fall into the world of Addie and Eva, though I wish some more of the national history had been elaborated on. I got the feeling that the history that was hinted on in the book was only the tip of the iceberg. Overall, it was an entertaining read and definitely worth the time.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a big fan of The Golden Compass.

Annnd here’s a video of the author (!!) Kat Zhang reading from her book:

 

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Degrees of Difficulty: Writing the Other

It’s not easy writing about other, well, people. Cultural appropriation, offending someone’s sexual orientation, overlooking someone’s lack of privilege, it’s just land mines everywhere isn’t it? Even when you think you’re being sensitive, something comes along that tells you you’re wrong. Heck, it was just a few short years ago that I learned “Caucasian” was a dirty word. Sorry white people, I may have inadvertently insulted you. The good news is, from every mistake comes a learning moment.

When I read books about POCs, the first thing I do is check out the author. Are they a minority? Are they from the same ethnicity as the main character? Is there something in their bio that points to why they chose their protagonist to be non-white? Sometimes I think this might be a bad habit, as I tend to then read the book with a different perception heading in, colored by my pre-conceptions. Perhaps in an ideal world, I should read the book first, and then check out the author. But right now, I go into a book wanting to know who wrote it, and why they chose to include this person or that background.

What I’m basically looking for is this: what kind of authenticity is the author bringing to this book? If it’s a black author writing a black character, that makes me pay attention. If it’s someone non-Japanese writing a book set in modern day Japan, I perk up.

As most writers know, representing the other is not easy. This doesn’t even apply to just others. The authenticity question applies to every experience you might put down on paper. I had a friend in college who wrote an essay about kissing — creative writing requirements can be hilarious can’t they? — but it was clear from his words that he had never kissed a girl before. Needless to say, he lost the reader. Screwing up writing the other can do the same for your work.

gym01What I’d like to present here then, is a degrees of difficulty for authors writing the other. As arranged by gymnastic moves. Because, I mean, who isn’t/wasn’t into gymnatics? Dominique Moceanu forever! Gymnastics scoring is based on two things: degree of difficulty and execution. What I want to look at is how difficult it is to gain some authenticity, and strive to write a book that you can vehemently defend against critics’ claims that you “got it all wrong.”

I’m keeping my comments confined to racial diversity for the purposes of this post. But I believe the same scale could be used for all things other. The degree of difficulty score is just for the attempt, it has nothing to do with the execution. Hopefully, everyone can nail the landing. Because we are all superstars.

Note: Degree of difficulty score is rated for how hard it would be to get writing the other “right.”

Somersault
You’re not including any racial diversity in your book. Everyone is from the same background, there are no non-white people in 1800’s Europe, blah blah blah. That’s fine, it’s your book, do what you want.
Degree of Difficulty: 0.0

Cartwheel
You’ve decided to throw in a side character who is a minority. It’s super trendy so you think to yourself, “How can I jam in some diversity in here?” You decide to change a few physical characteristics, try your hand at capturing an accent, and sling on a last name that sounds different. Voila, diversity is fun!
Degree of Difficulty: 1.3

Splits
You are writing about your own ethnicity. If it’s not obvious you’re of that ethnicity — through author photos, last name checks, etc. — you may have to point that out during interviews. Or in your bio. The good news is you won’t have to answer any questions like, “What do you know about being Asian?” Your answer can always be, “I am Asian!” This “I am ____” card can be played at any time, but also understand that you’re now open to critiques about how you’re representing your people.

Sidenote: This last point can actually make your degree of difficulty skyrocket, depending on how interested you are in remaining in good standing with your community. This topic should actually be explored in another post. Writing the other while being that other, while keeping an eye on those others. Whew, what a mouthful. We’ll shelve it for next time…
Degree of Difficulty: 2.7

Handstand
“I was born there, raised there, etc.” Any close variation of this works out well. If you’re a native, even though you’re not of that ethnicity, your authenticity rating is going to be pretty high. Just make sure to include that tidbit in your bio, yeah?
Degree of Difficulty: 3.2

Round Off
Someone you know is of the Other. They are your (best) friend, your wife, your boyfriend, your mentor, your mailman. Whoever it is, you have drawn inspiration from them and have decided to immortalize them in ink. Bravo! A beautiful idea. However, beware the pitfall of singular models. That’s all I have to say here. Beware. Singular. Models. Nobody looks kindly on the “my black friend said…” defense.
Degree of Difficulty: 5.8

gabby-douglas-olympics-thumb-640xauto-6353Walkover
A few years ago, you took a vacation to somewhere that you are writing about now. You brought along a shiny new Moleskin, took copious notes, engaged in witty banter with the people who served your meals (perhaps testing out your recently acquired Rosetta Stone skills), and even sat in the square people watching for an entire afternoon. You have visited the Other side and now feel confident you can write with authority.

You could even kick this up a notch. “I lived there for x-number of months.” That is a powerful statement. Very powerful. But even having lived somewhere for a few months doesn’t mean you know every/anything. I lived in England for six months but was nestled away in the countryside for most of it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable representing any location outside of Seven Oaks, much less write broadly about the British.

Your weekend jaunt to India should hopefully leave you feeling the same. Visiting places is all blind men and elephants, as far as I’m concerned. What about an immersion program, or having taught English in another country you ask? Same, same, same!
Degree of Difficulty: 6.4

Front Handspring
You have immersed yourself in research. Lots of research. Dense history books, subtitled but never dubbed movies, pertinent YouTube videos, gushy travel magazine articles, drool worthy food blogs. You stalk Instagram accounts, am super pro at using Google Earth, stake out front row seats at all the local cultural celebrations. You know more about the history of Cinco De Mayo than your Mexican friends do.

All of this is very fine, and your efforts should be applauded. However, being an expert — and probably a bit of a know it all — on something does not necessarily mean you won’t be challenged about writing the Other. Your Asian Studies minor, the one you took four upper division classes in to graduate on time, is shiny but what do you really know?
Degree of Difficulty: 7.1

Backflip
You’re aiming to make a nuanced portrayal that will make reviewers exclaim, “How did this white guy write a transgendered black female so well?!” People hold their breath as you could possibly land on your head.
Degree of Difficulty: 8.7

Piked Arabian Double Front
You’ve done it, you’ve written a book that not only includes diversity but withstands critical analysis, is fetted with lots of awards, and not only makes you proud, but people will use it as a textbook for “How to write the Other.”
Degree of Difficulty: 9.9

As you can see, writing the other is not easy. Allow me to link to someone far more eloquent than I: s.e. smith’s blog post “Writing the Other.” It’s got less gymnastics comparisons but far more solid information and thoughts to chew on. Also, I’ve never done gymnastics in my life so this entire post could be suspect. You decide!

gym02

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Flashback in Color: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

While Rich in Color’s mission is to share current diverse novels, we must not forget the Classics. The trailblazers, the writers who chose to write stories featuring characters of color before readers demanded it. These novels moved readers when they were first published and move readers still, as well as inspired generations of writers of color. Therefore, we are instituting a new series here on Rich In Color, titled Flashback in Color, exploring those classics novels that are beloved by all.

20130505-134748.jpgThis post was inspired by one of my 7th grade students bringing in Mildred Taylor’s, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”. This Newbery Award winning classic was published in 1976 and is still loved by readers. I, in fact, read the book when I was in 5th grade, and my heart still warms from the memory of the novel.

Set in Mississippi during the Great Depression, the novel follows the events surrounding the Logans, an African-American family who own their farmland, unlike many African-American families of the time. The novel explores the tension of racial relationships created by the poverty of the Depression.

When I read the novel as a child, I was extremely happy to read a novel, a compelling novel, that featured a character who looked like me. I was a voracious reader, and Roll of Thunder was the first time I remembered thinking, “Here is a black character I could relate to. She’s not the only one, or the friend. It’s all about her.” It was so uplifting for an 11 year old inspiring writer.

One of the reasons why, I think, Taylor’s novel has stood the test of time is that the character of Cassie Logan is written so strongly. She is fierce, stands up for what she believes, questions her world and ultimately overcomes the obstacles thrown her way. Who wouldn’t want to took up to a character like that?

Taylor also doesn’t hold back with the racism that Cassie and her family experience. After everything her family goes through, you want them to win, to come out on top. In that aspect, with such a sensitive subject, the very fact that Taylor speaks to the young reader, not at the reader, is why adolescents since 1976 have fallen in love with the novel and why it is still taught in schools.

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The Worry-Free Vacation

Books are the perfect vehicle for travel. They can take you to your destination in the blink of an eye. You won’t experience  turbulence and they never cause seasickness. Books also deliver you to countries all over the world with no risk of misplacing your passport or getting jet-lag. The best part is that you get to meet characters from many different places and see life from a different perspective.

I had a fun time looking through book lists (mine and those of many others) to find a wide variety of places to visit during my vacation. I have read many of the titles, but was excited to find some new ones too.

I will make my summer reading plan with many of these destinations in mind. I invite you to start planning your trip any time.

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Japan – Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito #1), Ichiro
China (in the past) – Boxers (it will be released in the fall)
China (in the future) – Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1)
Nepal – Sold

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India – Sita’s Ramayana, Secret Keeper
Andaman Islands – Islands End
Malaysia – Kampung Boy
Afghanistan – Operation Oleander

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Pakistan – Shabanu
Iran – Persepolis
Cambodia – Never Fall Down
Burma – Bamboo People
Sri Lanka – Swimming in the Monsoon Sea

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Australia – Does My Head Look Big in This?
Palestine – Where the Streets Had a Name
England – Devil’s Kiss
Nigeria – Akata Witch
Sudan – The Milk of Birds

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Ivory Coast – Aya
Egypt – Mara, Daughter of the Nile
South Africa – This Thing Called the Future
Brazil – The Summer Prince
Haiti – In Darkness

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Cuba – The Lightning Dreamer, Guantanamo Boy
Ecuador – The Queen of Water
Mexico – Summer of the Mariposas
Dominican Republic – Before We Were Free

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U.S.A.
Alaska – Blessing’s Bead
New York – No Crystal Stair
Los Angeles – Legend
New Orleans – Orleans
Nevada – Bad Kitty

I was inspired to write this post after seeing Reading Around the World!, written by Sel who blogs at Bookcase to Heaven. Thanks for sharing your idea!

I know there are many excellent titles that I did not have a chance to include. If you think of any that would be a great addition to this list, please let us know in the comment section. Thanks for stopping by and I wish you a pleasant reading journey.

— cover images via Goodreads

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New Releases

Two touching novels exploring family and death debut this week. Both novels look interesting so I’m adding them to my summer reading list.

hereWhen You Were Here, by Daisy Whitney

Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died. (via Amazon)

 

UnderneathUnderneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Flux

“Dear Sunny: I don’t expect you to understand any of this yet, but we’ll always have yesterday . . . and today,  and tomorrow. Maybe one day you’ll figure it out. I never could.”

With a supportive family, great friends, and a spot on her high school’s swim team, Sunshine “Sunny” Pryce-Shah’s life seems perfect. Until the day her popular older cousin Shiri commits suicide. The shocking tragedy triggers heart-wrenching grief, unanswered questions, and a new, disturbing ability in Sunny—hearing people’s thoughts.

When Sunny “underhears” awful things about what her so-called friends really think of her, she starts avoiding them and instead seeks refuge with the emo crowd. But when she discovers her new friends’ true motives, Sunny doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. Feeling like she’ll drown in the flood of unwanted voices inside her head, she turns to her cousin’s journal for answers. Sunny must figure out how to keep everything from falling apart, or she may end up just like Shiri. (via Amazon)

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It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

sgljsdglkjdwatsonLast Thursday was the season finale of Elementary, which is an American tv crime show take on the Sherlock Holmes story. What makes the show great is Sherlock Holmes’ partner in crime solving: Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu. [Image via Racebending]

The portrayal of Joan Watson as an Asian American lady is spot on. She isn’t reduced to a stereotype because of her gender or her ethnicity. Instead, she’s no-nonsense, brilliant and all-around awesome. (If you can’t tell, I love Elementary and especially Watson.) Elementary’s Joan Watson is exactly the sort of complex POC character that I like to see in my YA lit as well, which brings me to…

…book recs! In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (ah, the glorious month of May!), here are some of my favorite books:

team humanTeam Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Residing in New Whitby, Maine, a town founded by vampires trying to escape persecution, Mel finds her negative attitudes challenged when her best friend falls in love with one, another friend’s father runs off with one, and she herself is attracted to someone who tries to pass himself off as one. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

 

 

E940_SCH_BornConfused_0.tifBorn Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she’s spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy.” Of course it doesn’t go well — until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your heart, finding your culture, and finding your place in America. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

nothing but the truthNothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen
Getting her fortune told by a Taiwanese ‘belly-button grandmother’ (who feels up her navel) instead of attending the spring dance is just one of the joys of being Patty Ho, a covertly snarky ‘hapa’ (half Asian, half white) struggling with her dual heritage. Patty’s domineering mother is determined to make her a good Taiwanese girl. Gangly Patty, no ‘China doll,’ longs to be white like her long-gone father…readers will find a compelling narrative, and a spunky, sympathetic heroine. This book should enjoy wide appeal. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

When you get the chance, definitely check out these books!

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