NWAW’s November must-reads

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

“The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya”
By Nagaru Tanigawa
Little, Brown Books, 2010

This third installment of the Haruhi series is a collection of four short stories chronicling our beloved SOS Brigade members and their efforts to “Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya.”

The club’s name is a pretty accurate description, as Haruhi has the power (unknowingly) to destroy the world if things don’t go her way.

Once again told from the point of view of Kyon, Haruhi’s classmate and reluctant brigade member, the stories are light and funny. The stories include, “The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya,” “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody,” “Mystérique Sign,” and “Remote Island Syndrome.”

In this third installment, the brigade members participate in a baseball game, travel back in time, search for a missing classmate, and attempt to solve a murder mystery.

Manga and anime have never been points of interest for me, but as you can see in this third installment of this series, my interests can change. The main thing that draws me into the Haruhi series is Kyon, the narrator.

He may not be an alien, time traveler, or esper like the other brigade members, but there is still a certain amount of duality to his character. He often groans and grumbles about being in the SOS Brigade and questions why he is even involved. However, you know he loves it – he just won’t admit it. And while he constantly comments on his attraction to Mikuru Asahina, the time traveler of the bunch, readers get the sense that his true feelings lay with their brigade leader. Personally, I think Haruhi is the reason that Kyon is in the club.

Like the previous installments, “Boredom” hints and refers back to previous books, but it can be read on its own. This is a common quality among all of my favorite series, and as you’ve probably guessed by now, Haruhi and the gang are now on that list.

Next in the series is “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.” I just have to say, I can’t wait to see what adventures the SOS Brigade will have in this one.

“Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”
By David Yoo
Hyperion Books, 2008

Tired of enduring one tragic incident after another? Albert Kim decides to live his high school days as an intentional loser.

No longer concerned with girls, social status, and everything else that comes with being a teenager, the Korean American teen observes his peers with a detached objectivity that makes him grateful to be on the outside.

But during the summer before his junior year, he gets a job at a local inn. There, he meets his coworker Mia Stone. Despite his apathy toward all things related to high school, Albert is hit with a severe case of nervousness that any teenage boy would get in the presence of a pretty girl.

Somehow, Albert is able to overcome his extreme social awkwardness, and by the end of summer, the two are “something.”

Albert barely processes this when their budding relationship is tested in a big way. Mia’s ex-boyfriend and local golden boy Ryan has cancer and needs Mia’s support.

With Mia being there for Ryan, Albert is left confused about their status. On top of that, he finds himself in a Romeo and Juliet-like situation. But whereas the Shakespearean couple had each other and worked against their families, Albert is flying solo and fighting an entire town that wants nothing more than to see Mia and Ryan back together.

In keeping with the rest of Albert’s life, the events that ensue are tragic. With Albert having spent two years in arrested development, his attempts to live and socialize among his peers go awry, making you laugh and cringe.

Told from a male’s point of view, “Stop Me” is a refreshing take on the teen romance genre. While still on the melodramatic side (he is 16), Albert’s comments and musings remind me of my high school days and my encounters with my male classmates. He uses words and phrases that could only be heard coming out of a teenage boy’s mouth (my favorite phrase is “vaguely date-rapey,” which makes the story fun and light-hearted, but still sweet.

“Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story”
By Lang Lang with David Ritz
Spiegel & Grau, 2008

“Journey” is the true life story of world-renowned pianist Lang Lang — told in his own words — and the hardships that his family faced in order for him to become a star musician.

Born to Chinese parents whose own musical careers were disrupted by the country’s Cultural Revolution, Lang’s status as a musical prodigy was an obsession that dictated his and his parents’ lives.

After discovering his talent for the piano, Lang Guoren and his wife, Zhou Xuilan ordered their lives around their young son.

From sacrificing Lang’s childhood in the name of practice and foregoing financial security, to jeopardizing their marriage and risking their reputations, there was almost nothing the parents or son did not do to make him succeed in becoming the best pianist.

Growing up, Lang had to deal with a missing childhood, being separated from his mother, and piano teachers who didn’t like him. He also had hours and hours of piano practice enforced by a father who had placed all of his own hopes of becoming a professional musician on a son who just happened to play the piano very well.

Despite having what can only be described as a very intense stage father, Lang’s remembers his life up to this point without sadness or bitterness. He tells his story in a frank manner as if to tell readers, “That’s just the way it was. Nothing more, nothing less.”

What I liked about this story is how even during his darkest times, when his relationship with his father hit rock bottom and he felt he could no longer play a single note, Lang’s love for his father and the piano remianed.

And while Lang did enjoy the celebrity status, it’s clear that his love for the piano and for sharing music with others was more important. In a society where so many pursue a career in music and entertainment for the glory, it is refreshing to read about an individual who truly appreciates the art. ♦

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

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