Prophecy by Ellen Oh
Korean-based young adult fantasy featuring a female character not constricted to gender roles. What’s not to love here? I picked up the book solely on it being Korean-based in my effort to actively avoid fantasies based on a European-Medieval model. I’ve grown tired of that particular setting and I’m so glad to see that there are writers actively working against that typical backdrop. Now I’ll freely admit this up front; I’m ignorant about Korean culture and thus during much of my time reading this book I was looking up images to match with words I didn’t know. A great learning experience for me and I’d do it again honestly. But with that said, you don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of Korean culture to get into this book.
At its core this is a great action adventure. The main character, Kira, consistently kicks butt throughout the story and one of the strengths of it is that the author knows how to write action. I didn’t have any issues visualizing the movements of Kira and her supporting cast as they battled their way through their foes. So don’t buy into the sexism and think boys couldn’t get into this story because it stars a girl. Of course, the very idea of blood and gore being primarily the interests of boys is sexist in itself…but we won’t go there.
So Kira is our guide through this story, but she’s surrounded by some great characters. Her older brother, Kwan, is an excellent companion and serves a bit as her anchor, keeping her steady. Then there’s Taejo, a young prince and her cousin that she has been sworn to protect since childhood. Along the way they meet Jaewon and Seung, a comedic duo that adds so much life into the story. I love them the most, especially Seung who is so genuinely innocent and seems to be the light of the story. Some of the minor characters have bigger moments as well that really stood out. The role of King Eojin, their uncle, played against my expectations a number of times and his sister pulled out quite the moment towards the end of the story.
There are some typical elements to the plot such as the fulfillment of a prophecy and the idea of the “one” but Ellen does succeed in turning that a bit on its head. Honestly, I could have done without so much focus on that, but it does sort of serve as the axis of the story so my gripe is perhaps a bit much. Also, I would have liked to have actually seen the demons instead of their possessions. But I have a feeling that might be rooted in some part of Korean culture I’m unfamiliar with.
Overall, this is a quick, fun read. You’ll like the characters and will root for them throughout the story. Don’t look for a lot of emotional heft and some of the heavier bits we’ve seen lately from fantasy. This book knows its audience and perfectly zooms in on that. There’s nothing wrong with that and in fact, it gave me a nice breather from some of the heavier books I’ve been reading as of late. That alone allows me to see the appeal and boom in YA among older readers. Prophecy can consider itself a part of that boom and I think its greatest contribution is diversity. For a Korean teen who’s never seen themselves in a fantasy book before, I’m sure this felt like absolute gold. And that’s why books like Prophecy have to exist.
Amado Women by Desiree Zamorano
When I finished this book, I immediately hugged it. Kind of ridiculous I know, but it felt necessary because the book ended so completely and so powerfully I felt like that was the only way to release all the emotions pent up in me. Amado Women is the Latina’s Waiting to Exhale. Much like that book showed the ups and downs of both womanhood and being black, this book shows the ups and downs of being a woman and Latino. The writing style is addictive, having an almost perfect rhythm. It’s sparse where it needs to be and knows exactly when to deliver its punches.
The book centers around the women of the Amado clan. There’s Mercy, the recently divorced mother who is beautiful in so many ways but harbors far too much guilt and pain. The oldest child, Celeste, who is successful in her career and has the finances to back it up. But in the eyes of her youngest sister, Nataly, that success has made her cold and distant. Nataly is a starving artist who doesn’t quite seem to know where she’s going in life despite knowing exactly what she wants. Then there is the middle child, Sylvia. She’s the only one of her sisters with children (two daughters) and is trying to navigate her way out of an abusive marriage.
There are men in the novel and how they relate to the women is a part of the story, but the author avoids making the men the central to these women’s lives. They’re there and they are important, but how these daughters and their Mother relate to one another is where the heart of the story lies. If I have to say, I think the story of Mercy is the most powerful one in the entire novel to me. I’m a momma’s boy so I’m always a sucker for a good mom overcoming in a story and that’s exactly what Mercy does. What the author really excelled at in writing Mercy was showing her children that their Mother was only human. It’s a lesson that we kids don’t really learn until we’re much older and I think there will always be a part of us that still thinks they’re invincible anyway.
Sylvia’s story arc is a delicate one because it tackles the very controversial and sticky subject of domestic abuse. The author doesn’t get into gory details, but the emotions of Sylvia on display as she goes through this is enough to horrify you. She doesn’t shy away from the unfortunate role that children sometimes play in domestic abuse and the shame and resentments that crop up from that. There’s a lot of pain to be dealt with here, but the author does bring it up to a satisfying resolution.
This novel has all the trappings of a late-night soap opera with all the tragic reality of everyday life. It’s a roller coaster, but if you don’t read this book for ANY other reason then please read it to get to the end. I promise you that you’ll get to the end and smile. There’s just no way around it. How this story concludes is reason enough to pick up this book. I hugged that book because it was the only way I could hug those characters.
The Basics: Mr. Vo is the only Vietnamese-American to ever be elected to the Texas legislature. A Democratic representative, his District includes parts of west Houston. Born in South Vietnam, he moved to America to avoid the community government there. He endorsed a program in 2014 that would allow food stamp users a wider variety of places to eat by opening up their usage at some restaurants.
Why I Chose Them: It’s an achievement to be a minority and become an elected official in this country, but an almost miracle to become one in a state like Texas. That alone makes this man worthy of coverage. Representation is important and it always will be. Even when I may not agree with every aspect of a person’s politics I’m still always happy to see when inclusion is at work.
The Basics: Born in London to two parents from West Bengal, she moved to America when she was two. She grew up in Rhode Island and it was there she got her nickname of Jhumpa from a teacher. A recipient of multiple degrees, Jhumpa has taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her short story worked faced rejection for years but her first collection was finally released in 1999. That book, Interpreter of Maladies, received the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her work focuses on the struggles of Bengali communities and Indian American groups first moving to America and the trials they face upon arrival here.
Why I Chose Them: I was first exposed to Jhumpa Lahiri in college and I absolutely loved her work. Her writing was powerful and made you understand the difficulties facing a group of people you might not know a great deal about. Writers like her are the reason we need books and the reason we all need to make reading a part of our daily routines. Reading is that thing that draws upon and develops your empathy skills. When you can empathize with another culture and find yourself in it, that is how bridges to understanding are built. Writers like Lahiri are our architects.
The Basics: One of America’s most well-known authors, the Chinese-American Oakland native writes novels that deal with the experience of the Chinese as a family unit here in America. Her first novel was The Joy Luck Club, which some may know from its movie adaptation. Her Mother’s hardships inspired the novel and served as the basis for Tan’s work moving forward. Unfortunately, she is suffering from late-stage Lyme’s disease, but still continues to write. Her last novel was released in 2013.
Why I Chose Them: I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read The Joy Luck Club and as I write this, I’m rectifying that. A woman with the caliber of work she has can’t only have one of their books read. In my mind, she’s the Maya Angelou of the Chinese-American community and say that only having read one book. She writes with such authority y and authenticity about the Chinese-American experience that you can’t ignore her. It’s poetic in how she deals with the most tragic of things and somehow finds beauty in them.