Young people against the world — Book Recommendations

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery
By M. Evelina Galang
Coffee House Press, 2013

Angel de la Luna’s life begins to fall apart the day her father disappears. As a man who drove tourists and travelers throughout Manila, it was not unusual for him to be gone a few days at a time. But he always came back — except this once.

When Angel and her family learn for sure that he has died, the young girl quickly realizes he is not the only one she may lose. Angel’s mother is overcome with so much grief she might as well be gone too. But someone has to look after Angel’s younger sister and their grandmother. The job falls upon Angel’s shoulders.

“Angel” is the story of a young girl coming of age as she learns the meaning of family, survival and sacrifice. Her tale takes her to Chicago, where she reluctantly joins her mother and new stepfather and learns to make new friends among her American classmates.

Angel’s story shows the struggles of a young woman who tries to keep it together as everything she has known and loved slowly slips away from her grasp. Despite losing her father, her mother (for a while, anyway) and her country — among other things — Angel stays strong and sticks to her beliefs. Just as her relatives fought in the Philippine People Power Revolution in 1986, Angel is never afraid to take a stand — something individuals of all ages can aspire to do.

This book also recounts the struggles of the surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” from WWII as they try to forget the pain and humiliation they experienced half a century ago. Before picking up “Angel,” this was a topic I did not know much about and I am sure I am not alone. Galang does not gloss over or sugarcoat details of that time, which I think is important as they show that some scars take a long time to fade away.

Songs of Willow Frost
By Jamie Ford
Ballantine Books, 2013

For five years, 12-year-old William Eng lived at Sacred Heart Orphanage in Seattle. The young Chinese American boy came there after he discovered his mother’s listless body in the bath of their small Chinatown apartment. He never heard from her again, and is led to believe she died.

But on his birthday — or rather, the day the nuns at the orphanage have designated as all the boys’ birthdays — a trip to the theater gives him hope as William swears the singer and actress he sees on screen is his mother. The image of Willow Frost — as well as her voice – becomes imprinted on his brain and William can think of nothing but finding her and, hopefully, find answers to his question.

William escapes with his best friend Charlotte, a young blind girl who has been at the orphanage longer than he has, and the two of them begin to navigate the hard streets of Depression-era Seattle in search of the woman William hopes is his mother. As the story goes on, readers cannot help but admire the bravery of the two youths as they go about their mission. With the whole country falling on hard times, things are not easy for anyone — let alone the two children who know they

have no chance of being adopted, due to one’s race and the other’s disability.

It was hard to read about how accepting these two are about their fate as well as the situations of some of the other children in the orphanage. Some had no family left but some did. And the ones who did were often left to the nuns because their families could not take care of them financially — sometimes dropped off at the orphanage, sometimes abandoned and later found elsewhere in the community.

Reading about these children is heartbreaking but it is also inspiring to see how they deal with and try to make the best of such difficult circumstances.

By Wang Gang
Viking, 2009

In the middle of the Cultural Revolution, in a small village in northwest China, there lives a boy named Love Liu. At the age of 12, he wonders about the world outside the Xinjiang region he calls home.

Amidst all of his wonderings, in walks Second Prize Wang, a new English teacher from Shanghai. Despite not knowing when he would ever use the language, Love Liu pushes himself to learn English — unlike the rest of the boys in his class. In his mind, he also competes against the class’s brightest student, a troubled girl named Sunrise Huang.
Within an atmosphere in which accusations, rumors, and even mere suspicions can cause people to turn on each other, Love Liu finds solace in the English dictionary his new teacher has brought with him. He finds the answers to many of the things he questions about life within its pages — as do Sunrise Huang and their classmate Garbage Li.

Although “English” tells the story of life in a small village during one of China’s most tumultuous periods in modern history, it is also a story about the power that words can hold. Whether spoken or written down, the right word or phrase can hold enough weight to lead people to do things they never thought they would. This lesson Love Liu learns quickly as he sees how the people around him react to the things he says and writes.

One can take note of this lesson as the wonders of modern technology and social media make it so easy for people to share their thoughts with the world and not worry too much about repercussions or who they may hurt, because they can hide — often anonymously — behind computer screens and smart phones. “English” will remind readers how easily words can pull people up — or bring them down. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at

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