Rooting for the underdogs in this month’s book selections

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever
By David Yoo
Grand Central Publishing, 2012

Growing up, David Yoo hated everything that identified him as Asian: his slanted eyes, his slight frame, and others’ assumptions that he was academically gifted.

So in an effort to buck the model minority stereotype, Yoo does everything he can to reject his Korean heritage and fall remarkably short of his parents’ and society’s expectations for a young Asian American man.

He doesn’t bother with school, he quits tennis, and gives up the various musical instruments he played as a boy.

He forms a “gang,” two white boys and an Asian boy dressed as thugs who glare at old folks at the senior center.

He attends a non-Ivy League college.

“Choke Artist” is the true story of Yoo, an author of young adult novels, and his quest toward mediocrity.

And while he decidedly and purposefully works to achieve this mediocrity, you can’t help but cheer Yoo on and root for him. You want him to have a successful rap career and you want him to end up with the PWG (popular white girl).

Yoo’s constant complaints about his Asian heritage could grow tedious, but his self-deprecating humor and ability to laugh at his own humiliations — and there are many — is endearing and telling of the insecurities we’ve all felt, but rarely admit to having.

Some of Yoo’s stories are truly cringe worthy, but, at the same time, they can be laugh-out-loud funny and serve as a reminder that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. Girl’s Day Off
By Kimberly Pauley
Tu Books, 2012

In a family of Class A talents, with sisters who can see through things and blend into their surroundings, and parents with laser vision and a super sense of smell, Natalie Ng’s Class D talent of talking to cats is nothing more than an afterthought.

But when the high school sophomore sees an online video of a celebrity blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat is the only one who realizes what the cat is trying to tell everyone. His owner has been kidnapped and this woman is an imposter.

After some urging and insisting from her best friends, Nat reluctantly sets off to solve the mystery of the missing blogger. Along the way, she meets a number of colorful characters of both the feline and human persuasion, plays an extra in a movie, sneaks into Wrigley Field, and tries to prevent a murder or two.

After a lifetime of living in the shadow of her overachieving family, Nat is hesitant to believe her Class D (D for dumb) talent will be enough to save the day. But as the story progresses, she realizes, as odd as her ability is, it has its uses – an important lesson for anyone who differs from the traditional notions of “smart” and “talented.”

With references and nods to the John Hughes’ classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Cat Girl” is a fun underdog (or cat) story of a girl who learns the importance of playing to her strengths and being her own person.

Nat’s conversations with the various felines she encounters are hilarious as she utilizes the cat network to solve the mystery. Their comments and opinions on humans, dogs, food, and even other cats are so amusing that you begin to assume it’s true. Whether you’re a cat owner, lover, or none of the above, “Cat Girl” will have you looking at cats  and other animals  differently, wondering what they’re really thinking and what they’re up to when you’re not looking. Taliban Cricket Club
By Timeri N. Murari
HarperCollins Publishers, 2012

In Afghanistan, the Taliban rules all and men are in control of the women in their families.

With an environment in which individuality and freethinking are discouraged, everyone is shocked when the Taliban breaks its ban on sports in 2000 to promote cricket. While it’s seen as a shameless attempt to be accepted on the world stage, Rukshana and her brother Jahan see it as their ticket to freedom. The winner of the upcoming cricket tournament will get to travel to Pakistan to compete internationally.

The two siblings, who live with their ailing widow mother, form a team with their male cousins to win the tournament. All they have to do is learn how to play cricket, and win.

Rukshana, a young journalist who learned the sport while attending school in Delhi, is their only chance.

In “Cricket Club,” we see the lengths Rukshana, Jahan, and the rest of their family will go for freedom. Readers are transported to their war-torn city filled with religious police, executions, and routine violence. For each of them, the game soon becomes a matter of life and death.

Everyone takes family loyalty very seriously and will risk their lives in order to take care of their relatives. This kind of devotion, which is nothing less than impressive and touching, is what most people can only dream of.

Murari’s attention to detail is also reflected in his descriptions of Kabul, where Rukshana and her family live.

Rukshana, Jahan, and their cousins are such an unlikely team to succeed, but Murari’s characters are so well developed and relatable that readers can’t help but cheer them on and want to see them triumph. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at

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