NWAW’s June must-reads

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

“Love, Unexpectedly”
By Susan Fox
Kensington Publishing Corp., 2010

As the second oldest of four sisters at age 31, Kat Fallon can’t help but feel a little jealous of her younger sister Merilee’s upcoming nuptials.

With a less-than-stellar relationship history and a family constantly pointing out this fact, Kat asks her Indian neighbor and best friend Naveen Bharani to go with her. She hopes that her family will finally approve of the man she is “dating.”

Nav, however, has been in love with Kat since they met two years ago and sees the invitation as a chance to take their relationship to the next level.

He disguises himself as a different person on each leg of the train ride from Montreal to Vancouver, pretending to be a sexy stranger Kat meets on her trip. The two friends begin an affair with the understanding that what happens on the train will never be discussed.

But the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred just as Nav hoped and Kat feared. They learn more about each other in those few days on the train ride across Canada than they did in the previous two years – from Kat’s feelings about how her family sees her, to Nav constantly dealing with being a disgrace to his family in New Delhi for choosing photography over the family business.

Unlike most romance novels that portray a white hero and heroine, “Love” features a biracial couple, which is refreshing. Cultural differences between Kat and Nav occasionally surface. For example, Kat has a hard time getting used to the idea of an arranged marriage, which is a common conversation topic for Nav and his parents.

What I like about “Love,” however, is that their different backgrounds play a minor role in their relationship. The story is focused on the characters and how they relate to each other as they become closer, which is how romance should be.

“My Japan”
By Etsuko Watanabe
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, Inc., 2009

With society becoming more global on a daily basis, it is important for people to learn about different cultures. This is an especially important lesson for young children.

In “My Japan,” young readers will learn about the homeland of the main character, Yumi. There are some similarities between the 7-year-old’s life and our lives in America, such as the things Yumi takes to school and what the city is like on the weekends. However, there are some significant differences as well.

Not only will readers see what Japanese people eat, but they’ll also see other aspects of life such as bathing, sleeping, and spending time with family.

One of my favorite things about “Japan” is that the book gives readers a glimpse into life in Japan that has no real American counterpart. For example, there is a section about the public baths, which is a fairly unfamiliar concept in Western culture.

There are also different traditions the Japanese have that we don’t have here, such as declaring “war on dust” on the last day of the year. They also have different holidays than we do, like Girls’ Day and Boys’ Day.

The explanations are fairly basic, but with just the right amount of detail to keep kids engaged without overloading them with too much information.

Younger kids will enjoy the bright pictures, but “Japan” can also be used as a teaching tool for parents. In a society that has a tendency to be self-absorbed, “Japan” is a great way for parents to begin teaching their kids not just about Japan, but about the world around them and to get kids interested in other cultures.

“A Long Stay in a Distant Land”
By Chieh Chieng
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005

No one family is perfect. Each has its own set of problems and dysfunctions. But it is rare that a family can call itself cursed and have the facts to back it up.

Louis Lum believes that his family, the Lums of Orange County, is cursed.

Beginning with Grandpa Melvin, who unleashed a “relentless rain of steel death” upon the Nazis, the Lum clan has been losing members in an untimely and unexpected fashion, whether it’s by a speeding ice cream truck (Grandpa Melvin, age 62), E. coli found in a burger from a fast food joint (cousin Connie, age 12), or a car accident (mother Mirla, age 51).

After his mother’s death, Louis moves back in with his father Sonny. Sonny is hell bent on getting revenge on the medical student who had fallen asleep at the wheel and collided into Mirla’s car. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Louis finds himself interested in Bo, his father’s younger brother who had been living in Hong Kong under a self-imposed exile and had recently disappeared.

The story is told through the eyes of Louis, Sonny, and Esther, Louis’s grandmother. The book spans 60 years, jumping from past to present and everything in between.

The Lums’ story is tragic and amusing — tragic in the continuous deaths, amusing in the way the family relates to one another. You can’t help but sympathize with the revenge-seeking father, who feels as if he’s lost a leg after his wife died. However, you can’t help but laugh at how a young Louis deliberately provokes his mother to be punished because the boy in a Japanese sitcom he watches enjoys being spanked.

While the Lums have more than their fair share of problems, it is clear that they love each other. They are flawed and complex, but that’s what makes them relatable. “Long Stay” is the story of a family whose relationships with each other are complicated and messy, not unlike our own. ♦

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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