Life at War — Book recommendations

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends, 2014

The Lunar Chronicles continue in this third installment right where the previous one ended.

New Beijing cyborg mechanic Cinder and Captain Carswell Thorne are now fugitives on the run from the law — both on Earth and on the moon. And joining the party are Scarlet, a young woman from France who recently lost her grandmother, and Wolf, a genetically mutated operative, formerly fighting for the other side.

The outlaws are working together to overthrow Lunar Queen Levana, who has her sights on conquering Earth just as she has Luna (otherwise known as the moon). Her first step in world domination is to marry Emperor Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth.

Cinder and the gang plan to stop her and their best bet lies with the book’s title character, Cress. Just like Rapunzel, the young Lunar girl has been imprisoned since she was very young, with a satellite acting as her tower and her netscreens as her only companions. Cress connects with Cinder and the others and they plan to rescue her. But things go sideways and the group is separated.

As the group tries to come back together — no one knowing whether the others have survived — we learn more about the extent to which Levana has gone in her quest to take over the world. But despite the strength of her powers, we also see how her Lunar subjects stand up to her and resist her in small ways.

In addition to jumping off the fairy tale of a longhaired girl trapped in a tower, Cress also shows readers the damage prejudices can have and how important it is to look past our differences to see what connects us.

As in the previous two stories, Meyer weaves fairy tale and fantasy with science fiction. With a little romance thrown in, this installment makes for an action-packed adventure, filled with mystery, danger, and excitement. Years and Eight Months
Written by Icy Smith, Illustrated by Jennifer Kindert
East West Discovery Press, 2013

When World War II hits Hong Kong in the early 1940s, Choi and his uncle, Kim, become separated from his mother, as Japanese soldiers round up people throughout the city. And thus begins the three-year and eight-month long story of a 10-year-old boy trying to live his life during wartime.

With the dangers of war all around them, Choi stays with his uncle, as they are the only family they have left. The two do not know if they will ever see Choi’s mother again or even where she was taken.

Despite all this, life in Hong Kong continues. Choi and his uncle hear about villages that have been burned down as businesses around them close and food becomes scarce. Through it all, Choi befriends a boy named Taylor, who is half American and also separated from his mother.

Taylor had gone home to visit family in California just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The two also become unlikely friends with a Japanese soldier who gives them food in return for wood.

While Three Years is a children’s book, the subject matter is serious, as it depicts the struggles of war and the bleakness that comes with it. This is one reason why I think this is an important story for children to know. Based on true events during World War II, young readers are introduced to a complex subject matter that is not always easy to understand. However, Smith simplifies things by focusing on one boy and how his life is affected. And while things may be hellish at times, Smith also shows how hard times are when people’s greatest humanity and compassion can come to light — something we can all be reminded of from time to time.

In addition to Smith’s compelling story, Kindert’s artwork helps to illustrate Choi’s story and what he and others in Hong Kong had to live through during the war. the Shadow of the Banyan
By Vaddey Ratner
Simon & Schuster, 2012

In April 1975, just days away from the Cambodian New Year, 7-year-old Raami’s world shatters, as civil war hits the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge forces everyone out of the city and into the countryside.

Over the next four years, Raami faces tragedy after tragedy, starting with her father being taken away by the guerilla group and continuing with the death of friends and family members — a far cry from the young girl’s privileged, royal upbringing.

While Shadow of the Banyan is a work of fiction, the story is rooted in fact, depicting the many atrocities the Cambodian people faced while under the Khmer Rouge’s regime. Ratner also draws from her own personal experiences, having been 5 years old — and the daughter of a Cambodian prince — when the Khmer Rouge took the capital.

I have read many stories — fiction and non-fiction — and have heard first-person accounts of this time from family and family friends, but not many were from the point of view of a child, especially one as young as Raami. Ratner does a great job of capturing the chaos and confusion of the time, which is all the more confusing for a young girl, when “you’re aware of so much, and yet you understand so little. So you imagine the worst.”

Despite these hardships, Raami hangs onto the brightest part of her childhood, the mythical stories and poems her father used to tell. These tales give her hope and help her push forward.

In addition to demonstrating the strength a child can hold, Ratner also shows how having a disability does not mean you are weak. When she was younger, Raami had polio, and as a result, walks with a limp. During her family’s exodus from the city, they are forced to get rid of her leg brace. While her physical limitations may be seen as a weakness, they do nothing to stop Raami from pushing forward and continuing to hope that things will get better. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at

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